Diversity & TV News

Diversity & TV News: Analysis, Critiques, and Research

Debt = Slavery (CNN’s Black in America)

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“Debt is slavery.”  Those words hooked me into watching CNN’s latest installment of its Black in America series, “Almighty Debt.”  This two-hour special focused on how finances and religion intertwine in the            African-American community.  Here’s a link to CNN’s “Black in America” website.

I commend CNN and Soledad O’Brien for tackling this subject.  It would be easy to shoot down this show idea since countless Americans are dealing with financial issues.  But, the special continues to point out that all the economic indicators show African-Americans suffer proportionately worse than the majority of the country in all the major financial categories.   So, it was interesting to see the current and historical factors that have made such a perfect storm of financial instability in a large number of black households.   You can find a one-on-one interview Soledad O’Brien gave to Essence magazine about the “Almighty Debt” special here.

“Almighty Debt” introduces you to a New Jersey pastor, Rev. Buster Soaries of the First Church of Lincoln Gardens.  Rev. Soaries makes the comparison between debt and slavery.  The reverend didn’t stop there.  He also says, “Debt is a bigger problem than racism.”   So his ministry instituted educational and debt relief programs to help his congregation unshackle themselves from their financial burdens. 

The pastor and his mission to rid his congregation of debt is the focal point of the special.  CNN illustrates this point through the financial stories of several of the church members.  The 3 stories can be easily translated to many homes in America.  If you click on the links below you’ll see a short synopsis of each story from CNN.

Story 1: A married couple fights to keep their dream home from going into foreclosure. 

Story 2: A high school student takes on mounds of debt to pay for his college education.

Story 3: A long-time company executive gets laid off, and now he’s applying to hundreds of jobs without getting any callbacks.

Noted economist and Bennett College President Julianne Malveaux, Ph.D., made a profound statement about having a middle class job and actually being middle class.  “You can be middle class by income, but not by wealth.  So, if you’re laid off and you’ve got a little wealth then maybe you can make it a year or two.” says Dr. Malveaux.  But, she goes on to say, if you’re middle class by income, “lose your job and you’ve got a mortgage to pay, you’ve got about a month’s worth of saving, you’re in trouble and that’s the difference.”   It should be noted I teach at Bennett College, where Dr. Malveaux serves as the President. 

The outcome for each subject wasn’t a fairytale ending.  The pastor admits his frustrations that his congregation isn’t completely buying into living a debt-free life.  But Rev. Soaries wants to take the program he’s started to other churches around the country. 

You never know what portions of a story have been aided along because a highly recognizable camera crew is following people around, but in this case most of the stories seemed to be very plausible.  There was extra effort given to get the young man into college, but that’s something that happens for a lot of students during the admissions process. 

The packaging of the story was well told. I felt like the panel discussion at the end of the story was rushed and not well put together.  One of the panelists, Pastor T.D. Jakes, didn’t really need to be there unless he was going to offer a counterpoint to the way Rev. Soaries helps his congregation.  The panel segment tried to analyze situations within the packaged story, but also bring out other topics.  There wasn’t adequate time given to cover the final issues. 

This is a topic local news outlets around the country should also include in their morning meetings.  Even if it’s not billed as Black in (your city), addressing the fact that the minorities in your market are possibly suffering at larger a rate than the majority is newsworthy.  It would be worth looking into the many ways people are learning to cope with even less during these rough economic times.

If you didn’t watch “Almighty Debt” on CNN you can find it broken down in segments on the website You Tube.  The quality isn’t great, but it is viewable.

Does the media have an obligation to do more stories on a particular community when that community is adversely affected more than the general population by an issue?


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