100 years in Black Wealth

By Rev. Deforest Soaries

Spring 1921, one century ago, the economic foundation known as Black Wall Street was ripped from our people as a race massacre ravaged the Greenwood area of Tulsa, OK. Millionaires by today’s standards, Greenwood creators O.W. Gurley and J.B. Stradford lost everything financially–yet they didn’t lose faith, they didn’t lose hope and they didn’t lose their legacy, passed on through their bloodlines.

Spring 2021, some exciting things are happening for Black Americans, even though we worry that we may have another century to go before we realize true equity. George Floyd’s killer, a white authority figure, was held accountable for his heinous acts—raising hopes that we’re one step nearer to where we should have been all along. Closer to home, the dfree® Global Foundation’s Billion Dollar Challenge exceeded a record $30 million in debt reduction for our people. That’s historic. It’s never been done before, and you’ve been part of making it happen.

Now let’s zoom into an even more localized yet amazingly inspiring event, the recent graduation of 125 students from the dfree® Academy on April 17, 2021. In just 12 weeks, these graduates have changed their lives and, potentially, the lives of the many generations of their descendants, who will inherit the liberating spirit of financial freedom. From Fellowship Mondays to Wealth on Wednesdays and all the days surrounding, these determined people took the time to create a community and support each other in their commitment to live debt free.

They have put the lessons they’ve learned into immediate practice. Take, for example, one of our class valedictorians, Wynona Caldwell, who won a $1,000 scholarship from the dfree® Academy. She wanted everyone to know during the ceremony that the first 10% was being donated, the next 10% was going to savings and the remainder was going to pay down her credit card debt. Wynona is following the curriculum!

I’ve always told you that the path to financial freedom is difficult yet worth it. It starts with your mindset. That’s why dfree® uses a variety of tools to educate, motivate, and support people and is the only faith-based, wealth-building system specifically designed with the Black community in mind. We purposefully address the cultural, psychological, and spiritual influences on financial wellness and offer practical strategies for achieving financial success.

It may not always seem like it, but Black people like to do things together. One of the beauties of the dfree® Academy is that it brings people together in a supportive network. As dfree® Executive Director Tamika Stembridge said during the graduation ceremony, “The dfree® sauce is really in the community. You all have encouraged each other, cheered each other on, and discussed things that most people don’t even discuss in private.” Now isn’t it ironic that we don’t like to talk about our money but by talking about it, we can figure out how to follow the simple steps, and dfree® offers 12, to a new, empowered financially-free life? Economic freedom is important. It’s always been important. It’s one of the most important keys to have in any society. It’s about time we reclaim that knowledge and help each other, step by step, so we can create meaningful legacies all over the globe. If you haven’t joined the dfree® movement yet, I encourage you to start by joining the next class of the dfree® Academy.

After the Tulsa massacre, Gurley wrote to Oklahoma’s governor and said, “The cost in blood and treasure here has been staggering, and yet we feel that if this great cost shall serve to arouse the moral consciences of the American people and serve to bring together the best of the races in the working out of a common destiny, the cost and the sacrifice shall not have been made in vain.”

My friends, today we know we pay too steep a price when we accept frivolity and continue to focus on the material instead of the communal. Let’s continue this battle to win financial freedom so we can build our communities and leave powerful legacies. Let’s create our new Greenwoods, and protect them.

Reverend DeForest Blake “Buster” Soaries, Jr. is an African-American Baptist minister, author and public advocate, from Montclair, New Jersey. He is the former Secretary of State of New Jersey and former chairman of the federal Election Assistance Commission. Additionally, he is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey,