By Mrinal Gokhale
The dfree Financial Freedom Movement was introduced to Milwaukee for the first time on Friday, April 7 at St. Mark AME Church (1616 W Atkinson Ave) is near a payday loan store.
dfree is a program that promotes debt free living through biblical principles, mainly to African Americans. This program was founded by Dr. DeForest B. Soaries, Jr. in 2005 and includes a partnership with Prudential.
“We live in a culture where debt is not perceived as a problem,” said Dr. Soaries. “The first thing we have to do is admit there is a problem. We have to address the mess. We have to change our attitudes.”
Unfortunately, only about 30 people attended the free informational event, which dfree representatives said was a small crowd compared to other cities they’ve spoken in. Starting at 7 p.m., Reverend Darryl Williams gave opening remarks and described the poverty faced by the predominantly African American zip code where the church sits.
“We sit in one of the poorest zip codes in the country, where the average income is $22,238 and too many of our residents are dependent on payday loan stores,” said Williams. “We welcome the dfree movement to Milwaukee to transform the culture of 53206 to one that is spiritually and economically powerful.”
The audience then watched dfree’s documentary for about ten minutes in which people from different states described how dFree helped them rise above debt. It was stated in the film that dfree has helped thousands of people escape debt since its creation.
After the film, Tamika Stembridge, Executive Director of dfree, introduced some partners from Prudential. She said that while dfree helps people out of debt, Prudential educates those on how to rise above even further.
“Prudential did a study on African American financial experiences in 2011, around the same time the dfree book came out,” Stembridge said. “The number one concern participants had was getting out of debt. The second telling thing found was that African Americans seek financial advice through church.”
She stated that dfree representatives gave a similar talk in Michigan just a week ago, as they have in many churches through the United States. She then introduced Pete Bahner of Prudential, who covers the mid-America territory in twelve firms and nine states.
“Our study found that 54 percent of African Americans say their situations are somewhat better than their parents at a similar age,” Bahner said.
He also offered some financial planning advice, saying Prudential believes there are four steps to getting from “0 to 11” when escaping debt. The first step, he said, was getting out of debt.
“Step two is setting aside ten percent of your income on a weekly basis until you have three to six months set aside to take care of financial emergencies,” he said. “Step three is saving for long term goals, such as retirement or a house.
Step four is to check your progress every year towards your goals.” Reverend Williams acknowledged that not everyone in attendance this evening may have issues with debt.
“If dfree is not for you, it is for you to make a difference in our community,” Williams said.
dfree representatives had a table outside of the church room to educate attendees on Prudential and dfree services.
The event ended at about 10 p.m. with some more choir and praise dance performances in between speakers.