(BPT) - What does Juneteenth mean to you? For millions of Americans, Juneteenth marks an important moment in American history, one that spans 154 years.
The original Juneteenth dates back to 1865 and commemorates the day the enslaved people of Galveston, Texas, were notified that they were free by executive decree. This came two years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.
"While this event marked a historic day for Black Americans, the effects of these injustices still linger," said Dr. DeForest B. Soaries, Jr., the founder of the dfree(R) Financial Freedom Movement, a wealth-building system whose mission is to heal the wounds of the past and create new paths to financial freedom. "Today many black families still deal with race-based economic inequality and, shockingly, the gap has not grown smaller as the years have passed. Instead, it has widened considerably from where it was just four decades ago." Soaries offers the following points on closing the wealth gap:
Closing the gap through financial planning
There are many strategies for closing the gap of race-based economic inequality and the financial services industry plays a vital role in all of them. As experts in the field, financial services professionals possess a unique ability to support Black Americans in breaking down systemic barriers and shifting individual behaviors in order to create a new financial legacy. The financial services industry can also increase access to products and services, policy solutions and community investments.
Yet education is only one part of the solution. There must also be outreach.
Partnering with community and faith-based organizations like dfree(R), for example, allows the financial services industry to build a bridge to greater financial wellness through innovation and increased awareness. Prudential has teamed with dfree for the Billion Dollar Challenge, an initiative that includes emotional, psychological and financial resources, to support paying down debt through an easy-to-use interactive tool. To date the effort has helped more than 46,000 participants pay off more than $21 million in debt.
In addition to their work with dfree, Prudential has also partnered with Urban One to produce "Legacy Lives On," a new documentary that amplifies the conversation on the financial wellness of black Americans. The documentary, launching nationally on Juneteenth on the TV One cable network, follows three black millennial women on their journey to financial freedom against the backdrop of a history shaped by injustices. The collection of stories provides a window into the larger problems facing Black Americans today.
Closing the wealth gap benefits society
Increased financial awareness and opportunities serve the entire country’s interest in remaining a strong and globally competitive economy. Black Americans are an essential part of that. According to a Nielsen report, black consumers have $1.2 trillion in annual spending power. In addition, black women make up the fastest-growing demographic of entrepreneurs despite a lack of funding, and black millennials are leveraging the gig economy to generate wealth through innovative entrepreneurship.
Despite institutional barriers, Black Americans are moving forward. Imagine if these roadblocks were removed.
The foundation is there, but it’s up to Americans of every race, as well as the financial services industry, to eliminate these barriers. Education and outreach are key. Learn more about building your legacy of financial wellness by visiting Prudential’s Legacy Building page. Pledge to take concrete steps to learn, teach or join community-based efforts to ensure that next Juneteenth and those that follow are prosperous.
The Rev. Dr. DeForest B. Soaries, Jr. is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens (FBCLG) in Somerset, New Jersey. His pastoral ministry focuses on spiritual growth, educational excellence and economic empowerment. Dr. Soaries launched the dfree(R) Financial Freedom Movement which teaches people how to break free from debt as a first step toward financial freedom. dfree(R) was featured in a 90-minute CNN documentary “Almighty Debt.” He is author of the books “Say Yes to No Debt: 12 Steps to Financial Freedom,” and “Meditations for Financial Freedom – Volumes 1&2.” Visit mydfree.org for more information.