Welcome to my dfree® blog. I hope these thoughts will help someone think new thoughts and take new actions toward their financial freedom. The proverb says that "the borrower is slave to the lender." (Proverbs 22:7) I have dedicated the rest of my life to helping people obtain spiritual and economic freedom.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Drum Major for Economic Justice

I was a teenager playing basketball when Martin Luther King, Jr. visited my school, Montclair High School, Sept. 11, 1966. I saw the commotion but was more interested in the game. Dr. King had very little relevance to me or my world, or so I thought. His death, less than two short years later, would help define my life.

On April 4, 1968, I was 16 years old and I stopped by my grandmother’s house to steal a piece of sweet potato pie. My grandmother made such great sweet potato pie that you would eat it for dinner and eat chicken for dessert. My goal was to get into the house, steal the pie and get out without being noticed because I knew she had made the pie to raise money for her church.

When I got to her house, I saw her sitting at her dining room table with tears in her eyes. And the dining room table was right between the front door and the kitchen, which meant that there was no way I could get passed that table to steal that pie and go unnoticed. I had to encounter my grandmother, and I didn’t know what to do.

But the closer I got to my grandmother, the more I realized that she was not just sitting at the dining room table with tears in her eyes. She was actually there, all alone, weeping in response to something very specific. I had never seen her cry before and so I was startled. I asked her, “Why would you sit here in the silence of your dining room with tears in your eyes?” And she said to me, “They shot Dr. King today.”

I could not imagine why this Baptist minister, who lived a thousand miles from New Jersey, would affect my grandmother such that his death would cause her to cry. But there was one thing I knew. I loved my grandmother. I respected my grandmother. Though I was not familiar enough, at that time, with Dr. King to say I wanted to be like him, I loved my grandmother enough to know that I wanted to find out whatever it was about this man that caused his death to make my grandmother cry. My goal in life became that I wanted my life to be as meaningful to just one person as Martin Luther King’s life was to my grandmother.

More than 50 years later, Dr. King is celebrated primarily for helping end racial segregation. While his “I Have a Dream,” speech has been memorized and repeated thousands of times over, many people don’t realize that Dr. King wrote and delivered hundreds of speeches – most of them advocating for economic justice.

King felt strongly that, while the Constitution guaranteed legal rights, there are moral rights that are just as important including the right to have a job and live in dignity. In 1966, he wrote:

“The Constitution assured the right to vote, but there is no such assurance of the right to adequate housing, or the right to an adequate income. And yet, in a nation which has a gross national product of 750 billion dollars a year, it is morally right to insist that every person has a decent house, an adequate education and enough money to provide basic necessities for one’s family.”

On the eve of his death, in his last speech, Dr. King spoke of the moral drive to help the poor. He also spoke of pooling resources to have the collective power to request fair treatment, withdraw economic support if it was not given, and peacefully negotiate a settlement so that the resources of this great country would be more evenly and fairly distributed. He said:

“Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.”

Just imagine how Dr. King would feel today if he witnessed masses of people gaining their sense of self-worth from buying and accumulating stuff, exchanging their true identities for unrealistic celebrity lifestyles. If Dr. King were alive today, he would be fighting conspicuous consumption, as he continued to preach about agape love and righteous values.

Dr. King would be appalled at the behavior of the majority of Americans, yet he would be determined to find the right balance between social consciousness and personal responsibility, so that we all could enjoy the freedoms for which he so sacrificed.

Dr. King established standards for leadership. He was articulate; he was courageous; he was self-sacrificing. Every generation, whatever your issue or political perspective, needs people who are willing to stand up, speak truth to power, motivate people and sacrifice their own personal gain for some cause larger than themselves.

This is why I work tirelessly to help people become debt free. This is why I need you to step up and participate in this movement to financial freedom.

Living dfree®: April 2018 E-Magazine

Lynnette Khalfini-Cox is a vigilant warrior against debt who explains how to repair credit; meet the Billion Dollar Challenge winner: an army veteran and a single mother; God’s Gurls talk music, ministry and money; and more! Read the April 2018 issue now.

Continue reading “Living dfree®: April 2018 E-Magazine”

Living dfree®: December 2017 E-Magazine

Shanice and Flex Alexander get candid about love and money; dfree® focuses on Generational Wealth – will you leave a legacy? Ring in 2018 with dfree®, and more! Read the December 2017 issue now.

Lean on Each Other to Get Out of Debt

Not many of us have heard of Rev. William Washington Browne or Maggie Lena Walker.

Browne was an escaped slave, a veteran, a teacher and a minister who was the first black man to charter a bank and sell insurance in America. Walker was a teacher, a social worker and the first woman and black woman to charter a bank and community development organization in America. Both banks began in Richmond, Virginia.

Richmond is about 71 miles from Charlottesville, yet in 1895 Browne’s insurance became so profitable that it enabled him to buy real estate, gain the 1888 bank charter, and start a boon of black businesses. Walker used Browne as a model when she started St. Luke Penny Savings in 1902. Walker said, “Let us put our moneys together…. Let us have a bank that will take the nickels and turn them into dollars.” Her bank was the oldest continuous African American bank when it closed in 2009.

Both Browne and Walker believed in pooling resources and helping black people: save money, establish good financial habits and open businesses, so they could survive and thrive in America. They both publicly fought racism and oppression and built up their communities. Between 1888 and 1934 there were 134 black banks. Today, there are 23.

So, what did African Americans do before there were banks open to serving them? They participated in a practice of money pooling that is traced back to West Africa, commonly known as sou-sou. Sou-Sous are short-term, no interest loans among friends. The word is thought to be derived from the Yoruba esesu. Nigeria’s Ibo people call it akawo. But it’s a practice known throughout the world: Japan, tanamoshi; China, hui; Brazil, pandeiros; South Africa, stokvel or quiniela; U.K., partnerhand; Jamaica and Trinidad, partner; Guyana, box hand; Dominica, sub; Dominican Republic, sociedad; Haiti, min; Napal, dhikuti; Somalia, hagbad or ayuuto; Philippines, paluwagan; and, throughout Latin America, tanda.

I once taught a course on race relations at a community college in Trenton, New Jersey. Right in the middle of the city, there was a premiere corner of African American businesses that stood as a shining star of black progress. These fellas got together and they owned the corner right across from an elementary school. Teachers would point across the street with great pride and tell the children, “You can be anything you want to be. You can have anything you want to have.” Then, all of a sudden, a young Asian guy, about 25 years old, owned the corner.

I came in to teach one day and my students were all upset. I couldn’t figure out what they were upset about. They said, “We’re sick of this.” I said, “Sick of what?” They said, “We’re sick of these folk coming from all over the world and the government is giving them money to buy up our neighborhoods and we can’t buy or own our neighborhoods.” There was nothing I could do to convince them that the government didn’t have a special fund for Asians, so I went over to the corner and invited the businessman to speak to my class. He was reluctant but I convinced him.

He told the class he decided at age 16 he wanted to come to America for greater opportunity. He worked and saved his money for a one-way ticket. He flew to New Jersey and found other people from his country and asked if he could live with them for a while. For six months, he slept on their floor. He got a little job. He took half of the money he made each week and sent it back to his family. He saved as much of the rest as possible. He owned only one pair of black pants, two white shirts, one pair of shoes, underwear and a few other necessities. He worked, slept on the floor, worked and saved his money. Then, he decided he wanted to buy a business, which required $30,000, so he joined a meeting. At this point, I interrupted to ask what type of meeting and he described a money pooling group of people from his home country.

Every month they would each bring $2,000 and put it in a pot. There were 15 people, so each month the pot was $30,000 and someone would take the pot. Every month, for 15 months, the group financed a $30,000 acquisition. One guy bought a cleaners; another bought a gas station. When it was his turn, he bought the corner. My students were amazed into silence. Until one woman raised her hand to ask how they knew that the person who took the pot would come back the next month. At first, the young man didn’t even understand the question. The honor system was just part of his culture.

Money pooling once was a strong part of African-American culture too. Some of us know the many reasons the practice was all but forgotten in black communities, including institutional racism. Now, I graduated from the school of complaining about what people did to me and waiting for someone to lift me up. Until I recognized that I was driving a luxury car, broke. Until I looked in my closet and saw that every shirt I owned had a picture of a man on a horse holding a stick. This was a man playing a game that I would never play and didn’t even understand. I realized that if I took that man off my shirts, each would cost $40 less.

At some point, we have to help ourselves. But we don’t have to do it alone. In fact, research shows that individual growth and development occurs more easily when you do it in a group. We need today’s William Washington Brownes and today’s Maggie Lena Walkers. We need to lean on each other to prosper.

Build Strong Children: Teach Fiscal Responsibility

When I was a young child, I used to wonder how an ocean liner would fit down my northern New Jersey street because I so often heard my father speak of the day his “ship would come in.” Of course, later I learned this was a figure of speech. But as I grew up, I also observed how my mother was the queen of the store layaway. Today, when I mention this concept to young people at my church it seems as archaic to them as outdated rotary phones and eight-track tapes. We no longer have a culture of delayed gratification. Yet my parents taught me, by word and example, a basic tenant of debt-free living: wait to buy something until you can afford to pay for it.

Anything worth knowing and believing is worth sharing with our children. The family was designed to be the primary transmitter of values and the main venue for human growth and development. When our families are functioning exceptionally, parents do more than passively support their children and pay the bills. Exceptional parents are the shapers and molders of their families.

While planning summer activities for your children, take the opportunity to start talking to them about money. One of the greatest legacies you can leave for children is to teach them fiscal responsibility. Even if you are in debt yourself and still working toward financial freedom, take the time now to ensure your children and others form good money habits.

Remember that study from last summer that revealed that the income gap between black and white Americans is so enormous that it would take 228 years for blacks to get what whites now have? That study predicts blacks will never catch up without extreme measures. Yet, we can reverse those trends within generations and it starts with talking to our children about money.

Think about how money was handled when you were growing up. In many households, it was a topic that was rarely discussed. Yet, think about how most millennials have been raised – with parents sacrificing so they could be spoiled with luxuries. Even when living in their parents’ homes, millennials today are some of the people who are the most broke and lacking in knowledge about how to find and maintain financial freedom. Let’s not do that to another generation.

One of the most important things you can discuss with a child is how to counter instant gratification. Just like a lot of negative things that society uses to tempt children, developing the habit of instant gratification can lead to a life full of stress. It’s important that you counter the barrage of cultural messages that leave children believing they must have things and have them now to be happy.

Trust me, children would rather have your time and attention than any “thing.” So why not spend more time with them doing things like playing board games and encouraging the child to be the banker. Teach them how to clip coupons or let them teach you how to use coupon apps and go grocery shopping together – with a calculator. Encourage them to be entrepreneurs and take time to help them develop their business plans and budget.

If time is an issue, there are other important things to do for your children, such as ensuring they have a savings account, teaching them long-term planning by making them save their own money for things they want and allowing them to participate in or witness family budget conversations. I still remember the many things that my twin boys had to have — that suddenly became so much less important when they were required to buy them with their own money.

Your company probably provides you with incentives to give money by offering matching funds. Why not do the same with children? You can also give them summer assignments such as letting them research good causes on sites such as Go Fund Me. This may encourage them to learn more about the value of the dollar and, even more importantly, the value of helping others.

One of the most important things I stress when teaching people about financial freedom is that they must create life goals. When is the last time you had a serious conversation with your child about what they want for the future? In this time of heightened unrest and division in our country, you might not be surprised if your child has a negative outlook or doesn’t want to talk about the future. But it’s your job to provide comfort, assurance and a path to a better future. Make sure our children have life goals and the ability to achieve them.

One of our great heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had such profound respect for the power of young people that he started training children as young as age 7 how to join the civil rights movement. He knew that great and lasting change requires generational integration.

As Frederick Douglass once said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken [humans].” The next time you hand a child a dollar bill, attach a lesson to it.

DeForest B. Soaries, Jr., author of Say Yes to No Debt: 12 Steps to Financial Freedom, is the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey and is the architect of the dfree® financial freedom movement.