Faith leaders can play a decisive role in helping African Americans and other minorities become financially secure and the USC Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement is preparing clergy and lay to achieve that goal.
Through online interactive sessions, the Murray Center outlines the steps that pastors and faith-based influencers can take to educate their members. The series kicked-off on November 3 with a webinar entitled, “Building Back Wealth in Communities of Color” and scores of people tuned in for the class.
The Rev. Dr. D. Najuma Smith-Pollard, CMCCE program manager and pastor of Word of Encouragement Community Church in L.A., moderated the 90-minute event, which was co-sponsored by CIT-One West Bank. The program also included the Rev. Frank Jackson, CEO of The Group of Village Companies in Irvine and a corporate financial executive with 20-years of experience; and the Rev. Donald Cook II, pastor of Harvest Tabernacle Bible Church in L.A., who holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in business and management.
As part of CMCCE’s ongoing effort to equip faith leaders to transform underserved areas, Smith-Pollard explained that the session would focus on “elevating your community” through strategies on economic recovery and wealth building. The panelists also shared practical actions that could yield significant results for churches and organizations.
“Last year, the Murray Center hosted sessions around how to financially maintain [ministries] during the pandemic. Now, we want to begin to talk about building back wealth and how the faith community can take lead in teaching communities of color how to prepare for the future,” she said in her introductory remarks.
“We also want to encourage you to think critically how this information can be shared with your congregation or the people you serve,” added Smith-Pollard, acknowledging that nonprofit and faith-based groups could impart the strategies to their constituents as well.
“Remember, your people are your number one asset. When they are strong, the church or organization is strong,” she insisted. Following her comments, the Rev. Dr. Cecil L. “Chip” Murray delivered a brief welcome address.
Next, Jackson opened the first section of the program by discussing the state of wealth across demographic groups and the definition of wealth as perceived by different age groups and ethnicities. Emphasizing that his goal was to persuade people to be responsible stewards, he then proceeded to cite the facts and principles that assist with wealth building.
“The difference between your assets minus your liabilities equals wealth. You may want to create a survey to find out how your congregation or the people you serve and work with see wealth,” said Jackson who is also an associate minister at New Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church in Inglewood.
Noting that generational wealth often evolves from inherited property such as houses or land, he said that minority groups fall behind since they have a lower number of homeowners and less income, which leads the disparity.
“According to the 2020 U.S. Census, the poverty rate is 23-to-25% in the Black and Hispanic/Latino communities and 9% in the White community. Highlighting this issue of concern within your congregations and then pulling resources from within your congregation [can] help you establish your wealth building ministry,” he said.
Education also aids in building wealth, said Jackson, who cited that a four-year college graduate makes about $30,000 more than a high school graduate in entry-level positions. Also, he recommended increasing finances by reducing credit card debt because “the more debt a person has, the less opportunity.”
Another fact he brought up was that the nation’s 48 million Black Americans have $1.3 trillion in spending power, yet Jackson still urged, “We want our congregations or those that we’re servicing to be better stewards over their resources.”
Cook stressed the importance of generating income to build wealth. The added funds may be the result of employment salary, financial investments or other business activities. He also explained the distinction between bad debt and good debt.
“Bad debt is that which does not increase wealth and or is used to purchase goods and services that have no lasting value. Good debt is that which increases your network or helps you generate a value that allows you to manage your finances more effectively, to leverage your wealth to buy things you need and to handle unforeseen emergencies,” expressed Cook.
He went on to urge attendees to consider their debt to income ratio, which will aid in securing credit worthiness. Two other acts he recommended was saving half of your income and maintaining a credit score between 742-to-799.
“Lenders determine insurance rates and set premiums for auto and home loans for your coverage depending on your credit score,” he said. “There are even landlords out there [who] want to know where is your job, what position you have, how much you make and what’s your credit score because they want to make sure that you can afford the rent or price.”
Cook advised the audience to visit creditkarma.com or freecreditreport.com to obtain credit scores. He also listed some of the pathways to wealth and named entrepreneurship or starting your own business as the first way to add income.
“The scripture says your gift will make room for you. Find out from your congregation, what gifts they may have, then show them how to go into this entrepreneurial opportunity, how to properly set it up, get the business licenses, etc.,” Cook said, adding that investments and real estate are also optional ways to increase wealth.
The session and other resources can be viewed at crcc.usc.edu/events-and-training/murraycenter/. “Building Back Wealth in Communities of Color” will be presented online again on Wednesday, December 1, at 10 a.m.