Reverend Dr. DeForest B. Soaries, Jr., the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens (FBCLG) in Somerset, New Jersey, and the former New Jersey Secretary of State, launched the Billion Dollar Challenge to create black wealth and to motivate the black communities to strive for financial freedom during unprecedented times.
Black Enterprise spoke with the leading activist to learn more about his efforts and to hear his tips for staying positive and encouraged to practice faith during trying times.
Black Enterprise: What kind of tips/advice have you shared with your parishioners for maintaining their faith and staying positive during quarantine?
Dr. Soaries: We have transitioned to a completely virtual church. Generally, here is the guidance we have offered:
Take this COVID-19 seriously. Don’t allow faith to be a substitute for good sense and common sense. Stay safe – wash hands, practice social distancing, wear masks and shelter in place.
Participate in virtual church activities – worship, prayer, Bible study, webinars, etc.
Be grateful for what we have and express our gratitude as often as we can.
Do something for others. For instance, we had 200 people volunteer to adopt a senior by calling them twice a week and making sure they had what they need.
Black Enterprise: How often are you holding virtual mass or prayer sessions?
Dr. Soaries: We have one main weekly Sunday morning worship celebration with live streaming; five telephonic prayer meetings; 10 Bible study classes; nightly small group sessions; daily tele-counseling; weekly outreach providing prepared meals for the food deprived in partnership with local food bank.
Black Enterprise: How do you envision the church reopening process?
Dr. Soaries: We have a special committee planning for the re-opening of our building. However, we are in no hurry to re-open and have not set a date for doing so. We will likely not re-open until there are minimum restrictions required. The church is open so we are not that concerned that the building is closed.
Black Enterprise: What are some of your main concerns about reopening the church?
Dr. Soaries: Our main concern is the health and safety of our members. I want to see much more testing for COVID-19 before we make plans to re-open. We are also concerned about having the ability to function inside the building in a manner that is reasonable. For instance, social distancing is unreasonable for much of what we do. Virtual ministry may be more effective than prohibitive functioning inside the building.
Black Enterprise: Can you tell us what the Billion Dollar Challenge is? What is the ultimate goal with the challenge?
Dr. Soaries: The Billion Dollar Challenge (BDC) is a dfree® campaign to create black wealth. The goal is to motivate and mobilize 100,000 black people to pay off $10,000 each and shift the former debt payments to savings, insurance and investments. Paying off one billion dollars of black debt can create 50 billion dollars of black wealth when debt payments become insurance and investment payments.
BDC at its core basic level is an online tool that is used to help people manage their debts, make plans to pay them off using online calculators and planning tools as well as build our savings to establish a more positive financial position. The website www.billiondollarpaydown.com is the “base of operation” where people set their debt reduction and savings goals, track their progress and form groups to make progress together.
Black Enterprise: Can you explain some of the tools being offered to help motivate and educate people that are striving for financial freedom?
1. Individual User Debt Profile (understand who you owe and what you owe)
2. Calculator tools to help strategically manage, plan and pay down/pay off debts
3. Group and community functions that allow our people to join together, encourage and celebrate success, together, confidentially and without sharing any of their personal information or plans.
4. Online events that provide financial tips and educational information
5. Free online education, curriculum, and media and tools to continue learning and motivating to financial success.
6. Staff support for groups and organizations in strategies, plans, tools and support as they lead others.
Black Enterprise: How many people have you helped so far through the Billion Dollar Challenge?
Dr. Soaries: We have signed up 10,000 participants
Black Enterprise: How can the African American & black communities utilize the stimulus checks in a way that benefits them for the future, beyond COVID-19?
Dr. Soaries: Stimulus checks should be used in a manner that is consistent with the financial goals of the recipient. The receipt of these checks should motivate us to meet with financial professionals to create a plan that can inform us best as to how to use the stimulus money. We shouldn’t spend the money until we have our plan.
Black Enterprise: Can you share any advice for the urban communities on striving for financial freedom and how to manage their finances after receiving the stimulus check?
Dr. Soaries: dfree® means freedom from debt, delinquency and deficits and freedom to deposits, deeds and dividends. When we pay as we go, pay our bills on time and live below our means we can save money, invest money and own assets.