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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Aired January 1, 2011 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR & SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, everybody. Welcome to "Almighty Debt," a BLACK IN AMERICA special. I'm Soledad O'Brien.
Here are two facts about African-Americans. They're the most religious group in the United States and the hardest hit in this economy on every level, from unemployment to the number of foreclosures.
Tonight we're examining how and why African-Americans are suffering so much and how the black church, the soul of black life in the United States, is bringing out real solutions to communities across country.
I'm in Atlanta tonight with a panel eager to talk about this including Bishop T.D. Jakes of the Potter's House and Pastor DeForest "Buster" Soaries of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in New Jersey.
But first, I invite you to watch "Almighty Debt."
MARY JEFFRIES, HOMEOWNER: I'm not nervous. I'm just not nervous. Are you nervous?
DOUG JEFFRIES, HOMEOWNER: I'm going with positive thoughts. Bringing a positive spirit. Positive vibe.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Doug Jeffries is a luxury car salesman.
M. JEFFRIES: So the one with this big family?
O'BRIEN: His wife Mary is a high-end real estate broker. But they haven't paid their own mortgage in two years. And now they could lose it all.
Today they're headed to a meeting with the housing counselor who's working to save their home.
(On camera): Do you remember the day you moved in?
M. JEFFRIES: October 12, 2002. It was rainy.
O'BRIEN: Oh, no.
M. JEFFRIES: Cold.
O'BRIEN: Oh no.
M. JEFFRIES: Just the messiest day.
O'BRIEN: That's terrible.
M. JEFFRIES: But it was sunshine in our hearts.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): They lived in a 3500-square-foot, four- bedroom home on a corner lot, complete with a three-car garage for their BMWs.
M. JEFFRIES: This is the living room. I'm a girl from Newark, New Jersey. We grew up in a one-bedroom apartment and it was four girls and one boy. So I would always say I can't wait until I get grown, I'm going to buy the biggest house. I'm going to do this.
O'BRIEN: They did it. But refinanced twice and then the economy tanked. Taking their commission-based incomes with it.
D. JEFFRIES: Well, we got a window in the basement already.
O'BRIEN: This house has been home to some of their best memories.
D. JEFFRIES: Coming down Christmas Day, little Maya.
D. JEFFRIES: Come to the Jeffries. Yes.
MAYA JEFFRIES, DOUG AND MARY JEFFRIES' DAUGHTER: Mom, so beautiful.
O'BRIEN: Their daughter Maya getting ready for the junior prom.
D. JEFFRIES: Everybody get a camera.
O'BRIEN: But unless the Jeffries can make some major changes in their finances, the bank is going to take their home. And their lifestyle and everything they've built will be gone.
M. JEFFRIES: You all look so beautiful.
MAYA JEFFRIES: I just ask God that whatever my parents are going through, that he'll help them, and I get on my knees and pray before I go to bed.
M. JEFFRIES: Oh, my goodness.
DEFOREST "BUSTER" SOARIES, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF LINCOLN GARDENS: Let's give God some praise.
O'BRIEN: The Jeffries are drowning in the kind of debt their pastor, Buster Soaries, preaches against just about every Sunday.
SOARIES: Live within your means. People that don't manage their money wisely are not managing our lives wisely.
O'BRIEN: Soaries is the senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in central New Jersey. And he's on a crusade. He thinks black America has a new enemy.
(On camera): Is debt a bigger problem than racism?
SOARIES: Yes. Debt is a bigger problem than racism.
O'BRIEN: You didn't even hesitate.
SOARIES: There's no question to me that debt is a bigger problem than racism.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): It's a provocative theory, but Soaries stands by his claim.
SOARIES: One out of five of us has no bank account. We still do payday loans, we still do rent-to-own, but you see, we'll drive shiny cars and we'll wear designer clothes. And we have all of the appearances of doing well, but we won't admit that we're broke.
Being in debt is slavery. When I'm paying last month's bills with next month's check, that's slavery. When I'm writing a check hoping that it doesn't bounce or when I pull out my credit card praying that it's not rejected, then I'm living in financial bondage.
O'BRIEN: It's a problem exacerbated in today's economy, the worst since the Depression. But economists say the crisis is rooted in the past.
JULIANNE MALVEAUX, PH.D., PRESIDENT, BENNETT COLLEGE: The African-American community is economically more fragile because wealth is a function of generational accumulation. And we were some other people's accumulation historically. So we're behind, you know, 100, 200 years.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Because of slavery.
MALVEAUX: Because of slavery.
O'BRIEN: Because of Jim Crow.
O'BRIEN: We haven't had opportunity.
MALVEAUX: We haven't had the opportunity --
O'BRIEN: And we're reaping that today?
MALVEAUX: Yes, we're still reaping it today. O'BRIEN (voice-over): Blacks still have, on average, $75,000 less in wealth than whites. Wealth is everything of value that you own minus debts.
SOARIES: If you can go from 25 percent to 7 percent, you'll be surprised to know how much money you can save.
O'BRIEN: Buster Soaries wants to close this gap and build African-American wealth by lowering African-American debt.
The church has long been considered the most important and influential institution in the black community.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We must be willing --
O'BRIEN: And for good reason. It played a key role in the nation's fight for racial equality and it always provided a safety net, and opportunities for advancement.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want to take a look at a couple of units?
SOARIES: Yes. Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch your step here.
SOARIES: You have parking in the back?
O'BRIEN: The religious leaders taking on this mission today are not just bible smart. They're boardroom smart, too.
SOARIES: I've got 50 people right now in this region, half of whom we can't save their homes. I think this probably would work better as a rental.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think so.
SOARIES: Especially for people who just can't -- who can't buy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can't get a mortgage.
SOARIES: Right. So we'll have to start looking at numbers.
MALVEAUX: They see the church as an economic engine. I think it's important. Churches collect millions of dollars. Should those dollars simply sit in a bank or should they be part of the building of the bank? Should those dollars simply pay rent or can they also pay mortgages?
SOARIES: Today is the fifth anniversary of our D-Free ministry and part of our celebration is giving you your brand new D-Free cards.
O'BRIEN: Pastor Soaries' passion is a program he calls D-Free.
SOARIES: We've got the commitment "say yes to no debt" on the front.
O'BRIEN: D stands for debts, deficits and delinquencies.
SOARIES: I pledge to pay my bills on time. That's delinquency- free living.
O'BRIEN: There are D-Free classes and sermons. And he's established the foreclosure prevention program. That's fighting to keep the bank from auctioning off the Jeffries' home.
M. JEFFRIES: We're coming with you now? OK. Thank you.
O'BRIEN: They don't have much time. If their lender doesn't agree to lower the payment soon, the next step could be a hearing where they could lose their home.
As Pastor Soaries works to help the Jeffries clear up their debt, his solution for this high school senior may force him to acquire it.
FRED PHELPS (PH), ASPIRING ACTOR: I want to go to school. You know. I think school is something that I need. You know. It will mature me, make me a better person. And -- or maybe the person that I want to be.
I ain't afraid of you either. You know why? I am you.
O'BRIEN: Fred Phelps (ph) is an aspiring actor. And his goal is to get into a college drama program.
F. PHELPS: I will never allow a man to control me and control what I am.
The thing I like about acting is that you get to become like a whole new person. I no longer -- that's right. I'm no longer a 17- year-old. I am this 22-year-old guy.
And respect in life.
SOARIES: Less than a quarter of Fred's friends will ever finish college. Ever. Half of Fred's peers have not finished high school. And so it's important to build in to the life of a guy like Fred some achievement of something that's recognized by society. And secondly, because he will have a higher earning power.
O'BRIEN: But before Fred can tap in to that higher earning power, he has to get accepted and he has to raise money for tuition.
Eighty-one percent of black college students graduate owing money on loans.
F. PHELPS: Good morning. Today I will be performing a monologue.
O'BRIEN: A win at a national acting competition could lower the amount he needs in loans.
CARL FIELDS (PH), CHURCH MEMBER: I am my own man. O'BRIEN: Church member Carl Fields is in the competition of his life, too. Against a sea of younger men and women, all vying for the same jobs.
FIELDS: You cannot complete the application without indicating your date of birth. It gives the employer an opportunity to weed you out.
O'BRIEN: After 25 successful years rising through the ranks at an insurance brokerage firm to become a vice president, this is one position he never imagined he'd be in.
FIELDS: I'm going to print both of these out. Those become part of my job application pile that I have.
Lord, I know that you have something special in store for me.
O'BRIEN: He's confident that god has a plan for him, even if he doesn't quite see it yet.
FIELDS: I'm just saying when, Lord? When are you going to bring this to pass?
SOARIES: Once Jesus is in me and I got a relationship with God, my friends can go down, but I'm going up. My family can go out, but I'm coming in.
I don't have to be a part of the crowd. I can comb my hair, press my pants, take a shower, put on deodorant and be somebody.
O'BRIEN (on camera): This just seemed like a good place where you could study and think.
(Voice-over): Fred Phelps dreams of becoming somebody.
F. PHELPS: I just for his audition and I pray that you would give him the strength, that you would bring every line to memorization.
O'BRIEN: First he must get into college, then he must find the money to pay for it.
CHRISTY ADAMS (PH), YOUTH MINISTER: Stay focus and completely, totally, and block everybody out.
Can we go in?
O'BRIEN: Today he's auditioning to get into the drama program at Kean University in New Jersey.
F. PHELPS: Now I just have to go in there and prove to them and to myself that I am good enough to be here.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Deliver it.
F. PHELPS: Yes.
F. PHELPS: Yes.
O'BRIEN: Pretty much. Good luck. It's 3:00? I have given you an extra 15 minutes for whatever you all actors do. Center.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. You ready?
F. PHELPS: Hi. Good afternoon.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Whenever you're ready.
F. PHELPS: OK.
I hate you. You know that? You know that? Yes, you too, because now you turned your heads and you ain't looking at me no more.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): While Fred acts, Christy Adams waits.
Christy is the 28-year-old youth minister at Buster Soaries' church.
ADAMS: We have so much to be grateful for. We spend so much time complaining.
O'BRIEN: She has a Masters of Divinity from Princeton Seminary.
(On camera): Without being humble, if you were not here, would he make this far?
ADAMS: I want to say yes. I believe he needs motivation and if I wasn't here or anybody here pushing him, then I think that he would be a lot more nervous and I think he would probably choke.
O'BRIEN: Has he choked before?
O'BRIEN (voice-over): They met more than a year ago when Fred auditioned for a church play.
ADAMS: I'm not. I'm not. OK.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Why do you think they believe in you so much?
F. PHELPS: I don't know. I think God definitely has to play a part.
O'BRIEN: Yes? F. PHELPS: You know? Like he didn't bring us together for no reason. You know. For every little piece to the puzzle creates a big picture.
O'BRIEN: Yes, Lord, we hear you. Cue the wind.
ADAMS: There's got to be some sense of passion.
I remember the night our show was over. We stayed in a hotel room like all of us. Like there was six of us in one hotel room. And we were complaining. And Fred didn't complain. And Fred texted and said, you know, I was just thankful to have a bed, I was thankful to have lights.
F. PHELPS: It's like, I walk out those doors, and I have to go, watch my back and look over my shoulder.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): What she didn't know was that Fred and his older brother were left home alone while their mother was away in Florida. The power was shut off.
F. PHELPS: That was life. That was mine. Reality. One day goes by, two days goes by.
O'BRIEN (on camera): With no power?
F. PHELPS: Yes.
O'BRIEN: No refrigerator.
F. PHELPS: Yes. And --
O'BRIEN: No light.
F. PHELPS: Yes. We had to throw all the food out. It was just disgusting. We're just living off, like, bread and water for about a good couple of weeks.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): A local agency helped pay the bill and restore power. Fred's mom, Delores Phelps, is a single mother. She immigrated from Jamaica in 1986.
DELORES PHELPS, FRED PHELPS' MOTHER: We're going to get you all cleaned up, all right?
O'BRIEN: She works two jobs, as a nurse's assistant and home health aide, to make ends meet.
D. PHELPS: OK. I'm happy to know that he has people in his life who cares for him. People that, if I'm not around, he has people who can -- he can really rely on. He can, you know, run to.
ADAMS: This is the application? What was your SAT? If you don't apply theater right now --
O'BRIEN: Christy stepped up as Fred's mentor. F. PHELPS: Club president.
ADAMS: Apply at theater.
O'BRIEN: Her church, now his extended family.
ADAMS: So I'm saving the application.
SOARIES: The key is, for someone like Christy to leverage our institutional resources and my personal capacity and make it available for the young people who have the desire to grow.
F. PHELPS: I just want to thank God for just keeping me on the straight path instead of going the other route that I could have gone.
O'BRIEN: The church has filled a hole left by Fred's older brother Kirk.
F. PHELPS: We were always together. He always made sure I had food to eat or make sure I always had clothes to go back to school in and all that. The only problem with him, though, was that he was on drugs. A couple of charges came up.
O'BRIEN (on camera): He got caught.
F. PHELPS: A couple of times, yes. And about three years ago, they deported him back to Jamaica.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Frederick Phelps, Jr.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): In June when Fred walks across the stage to accept his high school diploma, Kirk isn't there. But his mom and Christy are.
(On camera): How did you turn out the way you turned out? You have a brother who is a drug dealer. Your father not in your life.
F. PHELPS: I don't want to be poor like my mom is now. I don't want to be the drug dealer like my brother. So I look at what they do, and I decide who I want to be from their choices.
BRYANT MARKS, PH.D., ASST. PROF., MOREHOUSE COLLEGE: You have a segment of the population that's being underdeveloped. There's talent there, there's potential there. But the access, the opportunities may be lacking. So America is going to pay for it. So it's in our economic and work force best interest to nurture the talent we have in our backyard.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Pastor Soaries and Christy Adams from First Baptist see college potential in Fred. Despite his C grades. But if Fred graduates with a bachelor's degree from his first choice school, he is guaranteed debt.
It could be more than $50,000 worth. And there's no guarantee of a job. F. PHELPS: Even if acting doesn't work out, I still can use this to become an acting teacher. I'm also pursuing business and I also don't want to just go into acting just have that as my only option. I want to have my backup as business. That way I can start my own business.
O'BRIEN: Fred is not alone in his willingness to exchange debt for opportunity. This year for the first time ever Americans owe more in student loans than they owe on their credit cards.
(On camera): Why does it matter that young black men go off to college?
MARKS: High school diploma roughly makes about $27,000 black males, college degree $51,000. That's a huge gap. Now multiply that by 30 or 40 years over one's work life. That's close to $1 million.
Education pound for pound is their best option for a better life.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Doug and Mary Jeffries achieved their better life. But they're afraid it's going to slip out of their grasp.
D. JEFFRIES: One day I just broke down and I said, Pastor, I ain't doing so well today.
FIELDS: The sufferings of this present time are not --
O'BRIEN: And Carl Fields is a devout Christian, but he's being tested by the toughest economy in years.
(On camera): Has your faith diminished at all? Did you think, uh-oh?
FIELDS: Hallelujah. Thank you, Lord, God. I know, Lord, God that this day --
SOARIES: Faith is when you trust in God even when the empirical data says that God has forgotten you.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Doug and Mary Jeffries are fighting to keep the home they built from scratch eight years ago.
D. JEFFRIES: This is the American dream. We work very hard. And at the end of the day when you go home, you want something nice to go to.
O'BRIEN: The person leading them through the battle is Patrice Sims (ph), a foreclosure prevention counselor who works for the church's Community Development Corporation. PATRICE SIMS, FORECLOSURE PREVENTION COUNSELOR: And I do have the Jeffries in the room.
O'BRIEN: Today she's on the phone with the Jeffries' bank pushing for a decision on their request to lower their monthly mortgage payments. Their current mortgage is about $4,000 a month.
SIMS: Basically we just have to wait a couple of days for that appraisal to come in and then I will actually submit the file.
M. JEFFRIES: OK, what is -- what is your feeling?
SIMS: You know what? I really can't say. And so we just have to wait and see.
O'BRIEN: One in 10 black families are losing their homes, most because of subprime loans. But that's not the case with the Jeffries. They refinanced twice and now they're under water.
Gone are the parties. The vacations. And the gifts.
M. JEFFRIES: That's beautiful.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Why help Doug and Mary Jeffries? Super nice people, but in a way, they make enough money. They could just move to another place.
SOARIES: You can't assume that a person's middle income and has problems is less impacted by their problems than a person who is lower income and has problems.
O'BRIEN: How come we're seeing people who are in the middle class who are African-American now sliding back?
MALVEAUX: You can be middle class by income but not by wealth. So you're laid off. You got a little wealth. And you know you can maybe make it a year or two.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): But middle class by income.
MALVEAUX: Lose your job, you got a mortgage to pay. You got about a month's worth of savings, you're in trouble and that's the difference.
O'BRIEN: A report from Brandeis University says three out of four black middle class families are middle class because of income only, and are at risk of falling out of the middle class.
MELVIN OLIVER, PH.D., CO-AUTHOR, BLACK WEALTH/WHITE WEALTH: People forget that some people were born on third base. Other people have to start off at home and they have to hit a home run.
O'BRIEN: Many African-Americans start on home base because of institutional barriers that historically kept them from owning homes.
OLIVER: For example, homesteading created wealth for millions of American families. They came west, they settled in land -- of course, that was the Indians' land, but they settled in that land and for settling in that land, they got that property. And that property formed the basis of wealth that was passed down from generation to generation.
African-Americans were locked out of that wealth-building opportunity.
O'BRIEN: There were also programs like the G.I. Bill and the Federal Housing Authority created to benefit all Americans. But as federal programs, they were implemented by local officials who often operated under discriminatory laws and thousands of African-Americans couldn't gain equal access to housing, schools or money.
OLIVER: The most important contemporary example was the Federal Housing Authority. African-Americans either did not get loans from FHA or when they did get loans they were consigned to inner city neighborhoods.
Now if you fast forward 30 years and you think of the white family that went to purchase a home in a suburban tract that had no money down, that had an FHA loan, that cost less for mortgage, taxes and utilities, than a comparable apartment in the inner city, they got that home.
Thirty years later, they might have $250,000 in equity because that home has increased in value.
SOARIES: I don't want you to be that church.
O'BRIEN: Pastor Buster Soaries wants to help his congregation and black America conquer this wealth gap.
The son of a preacher, he always wanted to see more service oriented churches.
SOARIES: The church that I attended as a child seemed to have an interest in heaven but very little interest in earth. The religion that I respected most was the religion of the marches, of the protests, of social action.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Politics.
SOARIES: And politics. And my church was bible, bible, bible.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): At just 23 years old, he moved to Chicago to work for Reverend Jessie Jackson and within a year was promoted to national field secretary for Operation PUSH.
SOARIES: We're concerned about all the economic deals, but we do it within the context of our religion.
We were talking about economic empowerment. I began seeing religion much differently than the childhood church I grew up in. I began being exposed to the social gospel.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Social justice on one side and then salvation.
SOARIES: And salvation on the other side, but not as an either/or, as a both/and. That's really what makes the black church unique.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Social justice and salvation. It brought Pastor Soaries back to his father's church.
SOARIES: I said, dad, listen, you're leading a church that really focuses on getting people to heaven. You know, my understanding of God is I'd like to help people while they're still on Earth. So why don't we cut a deal? I'll come work for you at your church as a volunteer. You get people to heaven and I'll do the Earth piece and we'll be partners.
My right hand, my wife and my two boys.
O'BRIEN: Two months into the deal, Soaries' father died. But the son remained committed, a commitment that set him on the path to Princeton's Divinity School.
SOARIES: This is for my wife.
O'BRIEN: First Baptist and even a stint in politics. He was the secretary of state of New Jersey from 1999 until 2002 under Republican Governor Christie Todd Whitman.
CHRISTIE TODD WHITMAN, FMR. GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY: So help me God.
SOARIES: So help me god.
SOARIES: My focus is three fold, spiritual growth, education excellence, and economic empowerment.
This is our administration offices.
O'BRIEN: It's the reason he created First Baptist Community Development Corporation.
SOARIES: We've got these kinds of donations.
O'BRIEN: So this was given.
SOARIES: All of this was given.
O'BRIEN: File cabinets given.
SOARIES: All of it.
O'BRIEN: It's one of hundreds of CDCs run by black churches around the country.
Soaries' CDC has a focus on housing, helping to save people's homes from foreclosure and rebuilding a community near the church.
Doug Jeffries is a CDC board member. He's also a church trustee who counts the weekly offerings. He never dreamed he'd have to ask for the pastor's help with his own debt.
DOUG JEFFRIES, FIRST BAPTIST COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION: One day I just broke down. We were at a funeral at the church. And then Soaries, in his inimitable style, pulls up and says, what's up, man? How are you doing? I said pastor, I ain't doing so well today. He said, what's going on. That's when I had to tell him what the deal was.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Douglas kind of convinced me that he was going to ask anyway. I said, well, OK. But I was reluctant.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Was it embarrassing?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, yeah, quite. Quite.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): The Jeffries had been members of Soaries' church for 20 years.
(on camera): How hard is it going to be if you have to give this up?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, you know what, Soledad, it could be worse. It's not going to be so bad. It really isn't. I'm all right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But I don't think I'll have to give it up.
(voice-over): Mary is not alone in her optimism. A recent Pew study says blacks are much more optimistic about the economy than whites, even though they've been hit harder by this recession.
SOARIES: We have high percentages of people who believe in prayer. We're the most faithful both givers and worshipers on Sunday morning. So I think there's a direct correlation between our faith that's embedded in our community and our optimism.
O'BRIEN: Plus, the Jeffries have been through worse. Mary's daughter from her first marriage, Nikki, died in 1995. She was 24.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your child is not supposed to die before you. So I say to myself all the time that if I can get through that, this is nothing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lord, we come before you humbly, lord. Lifting up these mothers who have lost a child.
O'BRIEN: Some people lose their faith. They lose a child, they lose their faith. They say, I hate God.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I went through that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, yeah. I questioned why. You know, why my child?
O'BRIEN: You thing about her every day?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every day. I'm not going to say that I'm recovered, but I'm better. I'm better. But there are times when I don't want to get up because I'm thinking about her so hard.
SOARIES: In Mary's mind, the same God that brought her through that valley will take her through this next valley.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): As Fred Filp tries to figure out his college finances, he hits an unexpected bump.
FILP: After careful consideration of your application to Kain University --
O'BRIEN: And Carl Fields' job search is getting desperate.
FIELDS: Not all of those are in my career discipline. Doesn't really matter. I've been out of the picky mode for quite some time.
O'BRIEN: What was your last day like?
FIELDS: As soon as I opened the door, I knew something was amiss because I saw a strange face sitting in the room. The lady proceeded to tell me that the company was undergoing further reorganization, and my job had been eliminated.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): That was a year and a half ago. After 25 years working his way up the ladder to vice president at a large insurance brokerage firm, Carl Fields was let go. It was four days before his 58th birthday.
FIELDS: I must tell you, there were a number of grown people who, when I told them what had happened to me, literally stood there crying. And I said to every one of them, don't cry for me. Rejoice for what God is about to do. And that's what keeps me going.
Hallelujah, hallelujah, thank you, lord.
O'BRIEN: Keeps him going still.
FIELDS: Even now in the midst of the storm.
FIELDS: My day starts with prayer and meditation. Very seldom do I miss that.
Now I can face today, lord. Amen. Oh, boy.
O'BRIEN: Has your faith diminished at all?
O'BRIEN: Not one moment where you said --
FIELDS: It was not a question to God about why did you let this happen to me. Never. I've never questioned him.
The most difficult thing is watching my wife get up every morning and go to work and I'm still in the bed. There is something horribly wrong with the fact that she gets up to go to provide for this family and I'm not able to do that. You feel less than a man, because I'm not doing what a man should do.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I try to build him up as much as I can. I do everything and anything that I can do to make him know that he is the head of this house and he is my man.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): They've been married for seven years, set up by her mother Elsa, who was in a prayer group with Carl.
(on camera): Did you know you were being set up?
FIELDS: I had absolutely no idea.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): She was a widow with five kids. He was divorced with two sons. Their first phone call lasted hours.
(on camera): When did you know he was the one?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That first kiss by the front door.
O'BRIEN: First date?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no, no. Carl took months and months and months and months before we had our first kiss. The first kiss, yeah.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): They describe their marriage as wedded bliss, despite many challenges, including this current one.
(on camera): What's the cities of the relationship?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not being able to pay all the bills exactly like we'd like to.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Their regular monthly expenses are roughly 6,000 dollars. With his unemployment benefits and her salary as an administrative assistant, they're about 2,000 dollars short each month.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's hard. This is in your face.
O'BRIEN (on camera): What do you pay and what do you not pay? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The first thing is our tithes.
O'BRIEN: You pay the tithes first.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, yes, always.
O'BRIEN: Don't you think the church would understand if you said listen --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not the church. God gives us 100 percent. We can give back to him.
FIELDS: We teach people to tithe 10 percent, save 10 percent and invest 10 percent. So, in affect, we're living below our means.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): The Fields still try to follow that model and save, but it's very difficult. Every day Carl goes to the library to search for a job.
FIELDS: It's quiet. I'm not interrupted, generally speaking. It's a full day.
O'BRIEN: He fills out applications and tries to camouflage his age.
FIELDS: Some of these online applications, you cannot complete the application without indicating your date of birth. It gives an employer an opportunity to weed you out. At 59 years of age, what do they realistically think in terms of my longevity with the company at this point.
O'BRIEN: He also masks his experience.
FIELDS: I've also taken out in my resume my title as a vice president. And the reason I've done that is because once they see that, they immediately say, overqualified.
O'BRIEN: Today he applies for three jobs.
FIELDS: I'm going to print both of these out, because I save those. Those become part of my job application pile that I have.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Account executive insurance broker, client manager commercial segment, commercial lines account manager. How many would you guess this is?
FIELDS: I know I've put in over 300 job applications.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Hundreds of applications.
FIELDS: Good morning. How are you? Thank you very much.
O'BRIEN: Hours of networking at nearly a dozen job fairs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you looking for today?
FIELDS: The best job you have.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got it.
O'BRIEN: And just three telephone interviews.
FIELDS: You must be looking for qualified people.
O'BRIEN: Unemployment for blacks is nearly double that of whites, even among college graduates.
FIELDS: I see, I see.
MELVIN OLIVER, PHD, DEAN OF SOCIAL SCIENCES, UC SANTA BARBARA: The college educated black population is still predominantly in government jobs, which you've seen a lot of cutbacks. They're predominantly in the retail sector. And they're in parts of the corporate sector that are the first to go. They're not the dynamic and growing parts of the economy.
O'BRIEN (on camera): You think you're going to get a job?
FIELDS: I know I'm going to get a job. I know that I'm --
O'BRIEN: How do you know that?
FIELDS: I feel that I'm going to get a job. I just feel it in my bone and my spirit that I'm going to get a job.
O'BRIEN: In September, Carl gets a lead at church.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- the week of the 13th.
O'BRIEN: And Doug and Mary Jeffries make their last stand.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today we're going to focus on making peace as opposed to making war with the bank.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, guys.
O'BRIEN: While Fred Filp has a shot at winning 2,000 dollars he desperately needs to pay for college.
FILP: Is my do rag convincing?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everything is convincing. The gloves are going to be even more convincing.
SOARIES: One of my deep frustrations is that I can't figure out how to convince people that it is honorable, it is noble, it's cool to go for help.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mary and Doug Jeffries.
M. JEFFRIES: Hello. How are you, Mark? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys got hit hard.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): When the real estate and luxury car market plummeted, Doug and Mary Jeffries' commission-based incomes plummeted. Mary hasn't closed a deal this year. Now their home is on the brink of foreclosure. The church has arranged for the Jeffries to get help from attorney Mark Cherry (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today we're going to focus on making peace as opposed to making war with the bank.
O'BRIEN: Mark will try to save their home.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: According to the lender, there's roughly 26 payments in arrears. And that's a serious amount. That's a serious delinquency.
D. JEFFRIES: It's been --
M. JEFFRIES: -- two years?
D. JEFFRIES: A couple years now.
O'BRIEN: Two year, two months of nonpayment, more than 100,000 dollars. They have some money saved in Doug's 401(k), but are reluctant to withdraw it.
(on camera): You're waiting to see what the bank says before you make a move with your money.
M. JEFFRIES: Yeah. Because if you just give it to them and they still kick you out, what's the point?
O'BRIEN: Can you afford that house right now? Would the right thing to do be to say, listen, we should be in a house that's 400,000.
D. JEFFRIES: That's the pragmatic, the practical thing to do. Emotionally, we're attached.
M. JEFFRIES: I have a pretty yard.
O'BRIEN: You do.
M. JEFFRIES: And a pretty house. The pool would probably have been back there. The deck, the pool and the tennis court.
JULIANNE MALVEAUX, PHD, ECONOMIST: You don't know what the next person is doing. But I think there's some psychology in the African- American community around spending that's connected with having felt less than and wanting to feel as good as.
SOARIES: Racism does not cause you to buy 500 dollars shoes on a 22,000 dollars salary. It's a value system. It's a perspective on life. And we've got to celebrate the breakup of that mentality.
O'BRIEN: Is that an American problem or is that an African- American problem?
SOARIES: Well, it's an American problem, but it is most devastating in African-American communities.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Doug and Mary's daughter, Maya, is a varsity tennis player who plays hard and shops hard.
(on camera): What are your splurges?
MAYA JEFFRIES, DAUGHTER OF DOUG AND MARY JEFFRIES: Clothes.
O'BRIEN: You have a lot of clothes?
MAY. JEFFRIES: Oh, my gosh, you should see my room. Tons of clothes. Tons of clothes that I don't need.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Maya's half brother, Eddie, pays for her phone and credit card bills.
(on camera): What's your credit card bill? High? I can tell from that face it's a little bit high.
MAY. JEFFRIES: Yes. Maybe, you know, 400-ish, around there.
O'BRIEN: A month?
MAY. JEFFRIES: Sometimes, yes.
O'BRIEN: Have your parents told you about some of the financial problems they're having?
MAY. JEFFRIES: No, not really. I don't really want to know. I don't want to ask.
O'BRIEN: Really? Why not?
MAY. JEFFRIES: Because I don't think it's, like, good to focus on negativity. I just want to stay positive and keep moving.
O'BRIEN: You seem to feel very confident that it's all going to work out.
MAY. JEFFRIES: Yes, I am. With God's help, you can get through anything. Pastor says you just have faith. Even if you don't know something, what's really, really going on, I think that once you just pray and everything, that it will work out.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Maya's future could be expensive.
MAY. JEFFRIES: I would like to attend Georgetown, Princeton, Columbia, Yale, Harvard.
O'BRIEN: Can your parents pay for you to go to college?
MAY. JEFFRIES: It would be hard. It would really be hard for them. But I think that they could pay for it. D. JEFFRIES: We're very hopeful that there will be some scholarship money available. And whatever we can raise we will raise. So we'll find a way. You know, by -- by grace, through faith, we'll find a way.
M. JEFFRIES: She has to go to the school she wants to go to. It just has to happen.
O'BRIEN: The Jeffries' refinancing will make it more difficult for them to finance Maya's dream school. They have faith, but no home equity to borrow against for college tuition.
OLIVER: One of the things we know about America is that families pull out the ladder for their children. They're not going to be able to pull out the ladder.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a copy for you to keep.
It's going to be a tough transition for them. Even if they do get approved, the reality of them being able to maintain it are difficult. They're going to have to not make frivolous purchases.
O'BRIEN: They have downsized to one car.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some mediations just don't go well.
O'BRIEN: As they leave the meeting, the couple is hopeful. The attorney is cautious.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks 50/50.
D. JEFFRIES: Thank you.
M. JEFFRIES: All righty. He was very nice.
D. JEFFRIES: Yeah, very nice. Even though he said 50/50, he said it in an upbeat manner.
M. JEFFRIES: Sometimes the doctor can tell you it's 50/50, right? And you're fine.
SOARIES: Optimism has got to be connected to some action. Our game is faith in action. If there's no action, your faith is dead. The Bible says faith without works is dead. So I am -- I'm against optimism if it's not rooted in reality.
So I want to pray for you.
O'BRIEN: As the Jeffries wait on an answer from their lender --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I won't waste any more of your time.
FIELDS: I almost feel like this particular job fair was really not worth the time to come. O'BRIEN: Faith meet frustration. How is Carl Fields going to get over this next hurdle? And Fred Filp travels cross country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got your game face on?
O'BRIEN: On a mission to raise money for college.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the gold goes to --
SOARIES: We're supposed to be going up yonder. We're supposed to rise, ascend, get better, get stronger, have stronger families, stronger academic lives, stronger businesses, stronger jobs.
FILP: My name is Frederick George Filp Jr.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Fred Filp really wants to go to college. But it will likely require taking out tens of thousands of dollars in loans. So youth minister Kristy Adams (ph) has entered Fred in an NAACP acting competition.
If he wins this round and make it's to the nationals, the grand prize is 2,000 dollars.
FILP: Thank you.
O'BRIEN: He nails it at the dress rehearsals.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fred, you went over, so you were disqualified. You've got to cut it down. It was over five.
O'BRIEN: He needs to keep the time under five minutes if he wants a shot at the gold medal. **
FILP: Ready? Got your game face on?
I am you, the real you.
All right, guys.
Is my do rag convincing?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everything's convincing. The gloves are going to be even more convincing.
FILP: Good morning. Today I will be performing a monologue from "The Mighty Jones" by Richard Wesley.
O'BRIEN: That's the piece he uses for all important auditions.
FILP: You don't want to listen to what I've got to say? Don't none of you all want to listen? I am my own man. And I don't care as much as you hate me or you despise. Where should I go away? I am you, the real you. And, as long as you're going to be here, I'm going to be here. (APPLAUSE)
O'BRIEN (voice-over): It's a riveting performance. But then Khristi whispers, what's the time?
Four minutes and 29 seconds. The wait is short. Winners in these regional rounds are announced the next day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no medal, there's no amount of money in the world that could ever show us that we are winners, because we have you, oh, God.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, for the south, the bronze medal goes to Monique Robinson (ph).
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The silver medal goes to Donte (ph)...
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the gold, from New Brunswick...
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... Fred Philp.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take it all the way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the way.
O'BRIEN: All the way means the finals at the NAACP competition in Kansas City...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're doing it.
O'BRIEN: ... where $2,000 is at stake.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like it out here.
O'BRIEN: This is the biggest competition of his life so far.
PHILP: It's kind of nerve-racking to be at a national competition, and you're going against the best in your country. So, you know, it's a lot more competition.
O'BRIEN: But he's prepared and ready.
PHILP: I actually wanted to experience the character, so, some days, I didn't eat just to feel hunger. Some days, I didn't get any sleep, so that way I could like feel that tiredness. Some days, I didn't shower, so I could feel the -- you know, the nastiness. Today, I wasn't going to brush my teeth, but then I was like, no, you know, I'm going to take that back.
O'BRIEN: In real life, Fred is a sweet, quiet kid.
PHILP: You don't want to listen to what I have got to say?
O'BRIEN: But on the stage...
PHILP: Don't none of you all want to listen?
O'BRIEN: ... he becomes another person.
PHILP: We have always been here, and we're always going to be here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: New Jersey in the house!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm honored to declare this year's awardees.
O'BRIEN: In the end, despite a great performance, Fred doesn't place in the top three and fails to win any money.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congrats, man.
PHILP: I don't feel bummed at all, because this is my first national competition. I'm just going to use it as motivation to make sure that I do become the best in the nation.
O'BRIEN: For Fred, becoming the best means college. After this competition, the grand sum he has for school is zero. And acceptance means debt.
PHILP: "I would like to offer you admission to Kean University as a member of the upcoming freshman class."
O'BRIEN: He should be thrilled. But there's also this letter.
PHILP: "After careful consideration of your application to Kean University, it has been determined that, at this time, we are unable to offer you admission to our freshman class."
O'BRIEN: Two completely contradictory decisions.
PHILP: I'm confused.
O'BRIEN: Confusion that's cleared up a few days later by Valerie Winslow, the director of admissions.
VALERIE WINSLOW, DIRECTOR OF ADMISSIONS, KEAN UNIVERSITY: I called you over the weekend to tell you that you have been accepted to Kean University.
WINSLOW: What do you think of that?
PHILP: I'm very happy.
WINSLOW: We expect you to be successful as a college student. I just want to say, on behalf of Kean University, congratulations.
PHILP: Thank you.
WINSLOW: He worked hard. He brought up the grade-point average. We heard from his teacher and his guidance counselor, and, so, because of the work he did, he's accepted to Kean University.
O'BRIEN: The college also heard from someone else.
(on camera): Did you pull strings to get Fred into college?
SOARIES: Pull strings?
O'BRIEN: Yes, or whatever phrase you would rather to use, make it happen, snap your fingers, pick up the phone?
SOARIES: I picked up the phone to make sure that nothing got lost in the sauce, and that Fred didn't -- didn't fall between the cracks.
O'BRIEN: What's that mean, lost in the sauce?
SOARIES: Well, Fred was not your classic college applicant, and he was not heavily sought after in colleges. Fred had academic challenges, financial challenges.
And I didn't want to trust his high school counselors to be his primary advocates. And, so, when I heard that Fred was having some difficulty with the college of his choice, I thought it -- it probably would helped if I let the president know that Fred is with me.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): As black churches and their community development arms flex their muscles around the country...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations, boy.
O'BRIEN: ... being with a powerful pastor like Buster Soaries can translate into real capital.
PHILP: It's too big.
PHILP: It's just like great, because now I get to finally leave this apartment, and I finally start the start to become a man.
(SINGING) O'BRIEN: He has an acceptance. But he still needs the money to finance his education.
Doug and Mary Jeffries' income can't cover their expenses. They may be out of time.
(on camera): What's going to happen? What are the options?
MARY JEFFRIES, HOMEOWNER: There aren't any options.
CARL FIELDS, JOB SEEKER: I'm an optimist.
O'BRIEN: And Carl Fields has been looking for a job on his own.
SOARIES: I found out that Carl was unemployed through someone else.
O'BRIEN: Now that Pastor Soaries knows, what can he do?
SOARIES: Jesus rose from death to life. And you, too, can rise from the death of your situation, whatever it might be.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): For Doug and Mary Jeffries, it all comes down to today, their day in court. It's mediation day.
(on camera): What's going to happen today? What are the options?
M. JEFFRIES: There aren't any options. They're either going to reduce the mortgage or they're going to foreclose.
I'm ready. I couldn't sleep.
DOUG JEFFRIES, HOMEOWNER: You go ahead.
M. JEFFRIES: I am worried a little bit. But I still think that God has our back.
Thanks a bunch.
I just really believe that.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): A full three hours after the talks begin...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: God is good.
M. JEFFRIES: Yes, he is, all the time. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: God is good.
M. JEFFRIES: Yes.
O'BRIEN: So how did it go?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We didn't get a workout today.
O'BRIEN: A workout is a new lower mortgage rate. No workout means the bank is going to sell the Jeffries' home.
M. JEFFRIES: But we're still alive.
O'BRIEN (on camera): What's that mean?
D. JEFFRIES: We're still on life support.
O'BRIEN: So, what's that mean?
D. JEFFRIES: That there are still some -- some options...
D. JEFFRIES: ... we're not at liberty to discuss at the moment.
M. JEFFRIES: Oh, lord.
D. JEFFRIES: Lord, we thank you for this time together and pray that we might use in a way to be of service.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): For months, the Jeffries have prayed for divine intervention. And now, on the verge of foreclosure, it could come via their pastor, the same person who picked up the phone for Fred Philp.
DR. JACQUELINE MATTIS, DEPARTMENT CHAIR, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY APPLIED PSYCHOLOGY: This is what pastors do. Pastors show up. You can talk to your pastor about the loan that you need.
SOARIES: How you doing?
MATTIS: The black church has always been responsible for the entire health, the spiritual, the physical, the educational, the financial, the community health, political health of black communities. There really isn't any area of black life that isn't touched by the church.
SOARIES: You would like me to do what?
M. JEFFRIES: I know there's a way, if the bank buys the house back, that perhaps they can rent it for at least a year.
SOARIES: The ideal scenario for you to be able to stay in that house for an affordable rent until Maya finishes.
M. JEFFRIES: After the year, then move. O'BRIEN: Carl Fields is also praying and working at getting a job after more than a year-and-a-half of unemployment.
FIELDS: The lord is not slow about what he's promised.
O'BRIEN: Part of his strategy includes job fairs, lots of them.
FIELDS: OK. Everything is set, ready to go. Good.
Donna, my name is Carl Fields. Delighted to meet you.
John, my name is Carl Fields.
Good morning. How are you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very well.
FIELDS: Delighted to meet you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a Web site you want to go to. It's called USAJOBS.com.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can get the description online.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And, then, if it's a fit for you, you can attach your resume.
FIELDS: Sales is not where I'm -- I'm looking, quite honestly.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, you know, it's not for everybody.
FIELDS: I almost feel like this particular job fair was really not worth the time to come.
My focus over time...
O'BRIEN: Every fair ends with the same frustration.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are possibilities, but...
FIELDS: Every day that I get up, I think about a job. I go, despite the results, because I never know whether the next job fair will be the one where that job, that next career is going to come from.
O'BRIEN: But the next lead doesn't come from another job fair. It comes from church.
Charles Brown (ph) is a human resources director and church member.
CHARLES BROWN, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF LINCOLN GARDEN: I have a quite a number of people I want you to meet this morning.
O'BRIEN: The meeting is an accidental. Pastor Soaries is intervening again.
BROWN: Pastor called me and said, "I need you to be on a phone call."
SOARIES: Carl never came to me and said, "I need you to use your influence to get me a job," never. In fact, I found out that Carl was unemployed through someone else.
BROWN: To admit to people, "I don't have a job" is a big step. I think African-American men are very proud.
FIELDS: Are you looking for people who are experienced in those areas?
BROWN: And we're connected, like anyone else, to our jobs, to our family. And it's very difficult sometimes to admit that we're unemployed, we don't have a job. You try to solve it on your own.
O'BRIEN: Carl isn't on his own anymore.
BROWN: I want to introduce you to a number of different people.
BROWN: I'm going to ask you to do a quick elevator speech.
BROWN: What is it you're interested in, who are you, and then what is your follow-up plan.
O'BRIEN: Carl is about to meet hiring managers because of the church.
BROWN: Let's bring them in.
O'BRIEN: Doors are opening for Fred Philp, too. Can he afford to walk through them? Can he afford not to?
SOARIES: Don't accept the status quo. Don't accept the social stigma. Don't accept the position of society. Rise up and be who God called you to be.
PHILP: How you doing?
SOARIES: How you doing?
PHILP: I'm all right.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Soon-to-be-freshman Fred Philp has zero debt. That's about to change. The only question is by how much.
SOARIES: I will make a call tomorrow about getting a job for you by the school, all right? Now, what are you doing for you? That's what I'm doing. What are you doing?
PHILP: I'm actually trying to apply for a loan.
SOARIES: All right.
You're not opposed to working, are you?
PHILP: No, no.
SOARIES: Because, if you are, we're -- you know, we're done.
All right? OK, son.
PHILP: Thank you.
If he gets a job making $150 a week, he can pay for a lot of his own expenses.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Would you encourage him to take out a loan?
SOARIES: For education, yes. I'm not against student loans.
O'BRIEN: Isn't that a contradiction for d-free, debt-free?
SOARIES: Yes, but the world is full of contradictions.
SOARIES: Yes. The world is not perfect.
O'BRIEN: Why is this one a contradiction that you're willing to live with?
SOARIES: Because it's an investment in his own education. I believe in investing in education. It's an asset that grows in value. One of the pledged commitments in dfree is, I pledge to invest in assets that grow. And education is an asset that grows.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Fred is finally ready to invest in his education.
O'BRIEN: During the summer, he gets his much-awaited financial aid package.
PHILP: My financial aid is a total of $9,500, a federal Pell Grant, a federal direct Staff loan. I know two of them are loans and one is a grant. Definitely, I have to take out another loan, because $9,500 can't cover everything.
O'BRIEN: Pastor Soaries considers student loan debt good debt, but even good debt has consequences.
DR. MELVIN OLIVER, DEAN OF SOCIAL STUDIES, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SANTA BARBARA: Why? Because the earlier you can save, or the earlier you can invest, and the longer you have for that to grow, the more you get. Well, if you spend the first eight, nine, 10 years using that discretionary income to pay back the debt, when you start, you're 10 years behind someone who didn't use it.
O'BRIEN: It's late August, and Fred is on campus, but hasn't firmed up his loans for the year. He knows he will need more than the $9,500 he's been awarded. He's just not sure how much more.
Youth minister Khristi Adams is trying to help him make responsible decisions about his loans.
ADAMS: Do you know how much room and board costs at Kean?
ADAMS: How much is it?
PHILP: It's eight grand, eight grand, a little over eight grand.
ADAMS: Don't be like me.
O'BRIEN: Khristi is paying back about $50,000 in student loans.
ADAMS: Next year, you know, prayerfully, hopefully, your grades are good, you know, and you work really hard, you can get maybe some scholarship money, or they can offer you more financial aid, and you won't have to really deal with -- deal with all of this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nothing is really too big or too small. How does it feel when you hit a bump in the road? Pretty rocky, right? And we're feeling a little overwhelmed, a little stressed out. PHILP: I have a plan now, I have a map of what I can do.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you're feeling too stressed...
ADAMS: I think Fred is starting to get it. You know, I was a little concerned at first.
O'BRIEN: It's a good thing, because he's about to get a bill.
PHILP: I got an e-mail from Kean saying to look at my financial award letter.
D. JEFFRIES: We're hoping for a favorable resolution.
O'BRIEN: Doug and Mary Jeffries are on pins and needles.
FIELDS: It takes so long to go through these.
O'BRIEN: And Carl Fields' faith and patience is tested once again.
SOARIES: I have been changed! I have been washed! I have been redeemed! I have been delivered! Tell the devil he's a liar! God will make a way when there is no way! Change in the name of Jesus.
BROWN: Welcome, everyone. Thank you all for agreeing to be here.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Carl Fields is meeting church members who could help him get a job, an H.R. director of a university, the president of a hospital, an insurance company vice president.
FIELDS: Let me thank you all for taking the time to care about me. I greatly appreciate that, to say the least.
I have been for the last 25 years a commercial insurance broker.
BROWN: Now, we do have his resume here.
I think you gave me the updated one.
FIELDS: Yes, I did.
BROWN: So, today was just an introduction. And then I'm going to turn the ball over to him to contact you directly.
BROWN: And I'm going to coach him through this process.
FIELDS: Let me thank you all for coming. I would just ask if it's OK. I love to pray.
Please, lord God, I don't know if that job has already been made, but I know you're bringing it into existence.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Yes. Yes.
FIELDS: So, I just thank you, lord God. I thank you and I praise you, lord God.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
FIELDS: And I ask that you will bless each...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
FIELDS: ... the hands of each of those here, lord God.
The most unbelievable experience in my 18 months happened today.
Do you know what it's like -- been like for 18 months to -- to -- to knock on so many doors, trying to get an opportunity to meet people within, and to talk about you, other than just sending a piece of paper in a black hole? It's the most incredible experience.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amen.
FIELDS: Amen. Amen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amen.
SOARIES: Carl will get a job. I believe that we will do for Carl what we have done for hundreds of others. And that is make sure that we exercise all of our options to leverage our resources to help him find work. I mean, the short end is, I will make some calls.
SOARIES: I got your back.
M. JEFFRIES: I know you do.
O'BRIEN: Pastor Soaries has the Jeffries' back, too, but it's not enough.
There is no deal with the bank, no modified loan. Their home is scheduled to be sold by the sheriff in early November, but they refuse to give up. They want the bank to reconsider a modification.
M. JEFFRIES: They did say no, but that's because I don't have a job, real income. So, if I landed a job somewhere, I mean, we could probably revisit that modification.
D. JEFFRIES: We don't really want to have to go. And we're going to do everything in our power to stay.
If we have to leave, so be it. We -- we tried. We gave it our best. God has got a restoration. He may take this up, but he might give us a better place.
O'BRIEN: The pastor's involvement in the Jeffries' struggle didn't keep their home from the auction list.
SOARIES: There have been many instances when helping the family has meant counseling the family to leave the house. And this is one of those instances.
Their economic situation does not qualify them to live in that house. My mission is to help them become psychologically, emotionally, spiritually prepared to start over. But they have to agree to do it. They have to know that they're starting at ground zero. They're not building on something that's preexisting, but they have to approach it as starting from scratch. If they do that, they'll be very successful.
People are drowning in debt.
O'BRIEN: The Jeffries haven't started attending pastor's D-Free classes.
(on camera) Will you go to Reverend Soaries's (ph) debt classes?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, yes. After this is over? Oh, yes. I should have been going before.
O'BRIEN: Are your D Free classes packed?
SOARIES: No, my D Free classes are not packed. When I look at the rate of growth and the rate of participation, I'm very unhappy.
How many families here or individuals have been blessed in some way by the D Free ministry? Let me see your hand. Stand up. Let me see. Just stand. I want to know if you've been blessed. Look at this.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): He's now trying to take the program to churches nationwide.
SOARIES: On this, I'm not really seeking consensus of popularity. I know I'm right. I told them, you get tired of hearing this -- see, we're Baptist, so we don't have a bishop. Have a church meeting. Get 50 percent plus one of the members to vote me out, I will leave.
O'BRIEN (on camera): It means that much to you?
SOARIES: It means that much to me. It is not optional. We are -- we are mismanaging the resources that we have. How can you argue for more if you don't use responsibly what you have?
O'BRIEN: Do you want it more for the people who sit out here in the pews than maybe they want it for themselves?
O'BRIEN: So isn't that a problem?
SOARIES: It is.
O'BRIEN: So how do you solve that if this is the thing that's your passion?
SOARIES: Once a day I give up. Once a day I say, "Why should I care more about these people than they care about themselves?" Once a day I give up and say it's not worth it. I'm too old, I'm too tired. I've got my own problems.
O'BRIEN: And you must recommit.
SOARIES: Right. I recommit and then go through the cycle again tomorrow.
I am as passionate today about this cause of financial literacy and spiritual bondage caused by debt as I was committed to the cause of civil rights as a teenager.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Fred Philt (ph) is now in college and in debt.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I miss you.
O'BRIEN: Classes have just started.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got an e-mail from Kean (ph), and it showed that I was given 4,000 more dollars.
O'BRIEN: That was a grant. He also qualifies for more loans. His total debt for his freshman year is now more than $16,000.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If I'm not there, speak with my administrative assistant.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
O'BRIEN: Fred hasn't started working yet.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pastor Soaries, I've got to give him a big thank you. A very, very big thank you. And not just only him, but the whole First Baptist Church. You know, they have been -- you know, the biggest, greatest blessing I've ever had in my life.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're continuing to prepare. You're continuing to get those good grades so that you can finish off well. SOARIES: God gave Fred people in his life who would invest in him. God gave Fred the motivation that he needs to pursue all of his dreams. If Fred stays on the track that he's on, he'll defy the odds. God gave Fred a good package.
O'BRIEN: Pastor Soaries and First Baptist are doing what black churches have done for decades: using faith, connections and grit to help make a way when there seems like there is no way.
SOARIES: He'll give you options you never thought you'd have.
If we trust and never doubt, he will surely work it out.
O'BRIEN: And Pastor Soaries joins us here at the CNN center in Atlanta. Yes. Excellent job.
And for the next half hour we're going to be talking more about the crisis that blacks in America are facing during these financially debilitating times; in some cases far worse than their white counterparts.
Along with Pastor Soaries, we're very honored to be joined by Bishop T.D. Jakes. He is the founder and pastor of the Potter's House, the legendary 30,000-member church which is based in Dallas, Texas.
Want to hear from them. Want to hear from you, too. You can tweet your comments with the hash tag #BlackInAmerica or post a comment on our Facebook page at Facebook.com/CNNBlackinAmerica.
How many people say to you, "With all due respect, Pastor, you are welcome to advise my spiritual life, but please stay out of my personal life"?
SOARIES: Well, many people, when we first started our debt-free ministry, said exactly that. A lot of people said exactly that, skipping the "all due respect" part.
And the good news for me is that there's no pressure on me to succumb to their pressure, because I preach what's in the Bible. The Bible says that the borrower is slave to the lender. The Bible says before you build, count the cost. The Bible says your treasure will be where your heart is. And so, since I have God's book as my backup, then I invite people to be angry at the Word and not at me.
O'BRIEN: Lynnette and Carl Fields really struggling to the point where they have almost bottomed out. And when I asked her, so you know, give me the order in which you pay your bills, tell me about your bills, she said, you know, "First thing, 10 percent, I tithe, and I literally nearly fell out of my chair." I was stunned that she's doing that. SOARIES: Well, on one level we pay 15 percent tips in restaurants, when the waiter simply brings the food. There are people who have God as a priority. They're grateful to God for what they have. And tithing represents that kind of relationship.
There are people whose circumstances prevent them from giving anything. But the investment in the institution gives us the capacity to serve them in times of need.
O'BRIEN: But shouldn't someone say, "Actually, you should not tithe. You should hang onto that 10 percent and use that money to pay your electric bill, because you're struggling. Pay your mortgage which you're having a hard time reaching."
REV. J.D. JAKES, POTTER'S HOUSE: It's important to understand, you don't discriminate and say, "I'm not going to help you, because you're not a tither," or "You can't listen to the sermon because you don't tithe." But somebody has to pay the electric bill, the water bill, the what not for the church and church staff, or the church goes down, too. Us going down doesn't keep them up.
O'BRIEN: Is black leadership doing enough?
SOARIES: Well, I don't know what you mean by black leadership. I think...
O'BRIEN: Political leadership, church leadership.
SOARIES: I don't think it's the political leaders' job. I think politicians have the responsibility to govern. I think it is the religious and community leaders' responsibilities and parents to teach finances and money management.
JAKES: The other thing that's interesting to note, according to "Newsweek" some time ago, placed (ph) an article that 45 percent of upwardly mobile African-Americans attribute their mobility to the influence and the motivation that they receive from their church.
It is important for those who watch this program to understand that culturally there are some sharp distinctives between why people of color go to church and why mainstream Caucasians go to church. They expect different things from their clergy, by and large, than our Caucasian counterparts.
We get everything. We give counseling. We give inspiration. We give motivation. We give guidance. All of it has to be there. And our focus, particularly in the inner city, has to be more comprehensive.
O'BRIEN: We'll continue that conversation in just a moment. A short break. We're back in just a second.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SOARIES: Some of us want help, but we don't want to be healed. We don't mind getting a little loan, but we don't want our condition solved.
And if I treat the symptom but don't treat the cause, then the symptoms will come back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: And we're back.
The prosperity gospel seems to say, God will favor you with wealth. You can show you're favored by the things you have. Is that a correct reading of it?
SOARIES: If all we do is preach and all we preach is prosperity, there will be a gap between people's capacity and the biblical message we want them to embrace. And so we have to create big dreams. No one does that better than T.D. Jakes.
But we also have to provide an infrastructure so that people can manage their way through their dreams. If there's no infrastructure, then prosperity is an ecclesiastical pyramid scheme where the preacher gets rich and the people get tricked.
If there are programs for people in jail, for people looking for jobs; if there are programs that help people track their progress and reach their dreams, then prosperity is healthy, because no one wants people to be stuck in the name of Jesus.
O'BRIEN: But the ultimate question, though, is, you know, does God provide materially for people he loves?
JAKES: Well, obviously God provides sun, wind, light. God provides health and strength. I believe...
O'BRIEN: I'm talking cars, houses...
JAKES: I don't think there's any person who is a person of faith who has received a job that didn't say, "God, I thank you." But they still had to fill out the application, and they still had to go to school. It is not faith or works; it is faith and works.
And if the theology is flawed in the mouths of some people, it is because they have the misnomer of suggesting that you can simply believe God giving an offering and get wealthy.
O'BRIEN: Michelle Singletary joins us. You write about faith and finance for "The Washington Post" and you talk a lot about looking to church for advice when it comes to finances.
When you look at Fred Philt (ph) in the documentary, he now is going to owe $16,000 for his first year. This is a kid who wants to be an actor. In good times you can be an actor who's really a waiter, not an actor, making no money. Would you advise him, Michelle, to change his career choice? MICHELLE SINGLETARY, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I would have advised him to have a Plan B. I have a Plan B. I have a Plan C, D and F. You know, so "Washington Post" get crazy.
And so I would advise him to, listen, follow your dream because I think we all have a gift. And you want to operate in your gift. That's where you're the most happiest.
But also, you have to be practical. And so, while he's trying to study to be an actor, I would say take up some business courses. Do something else that will get you some money on your way to the thing that you really want to do. It concerns me that he's taking on so much debt.
O'BRIEN: Yes, $16,000.
SINGLETARY: To follow this American dream.
O'BRIEN: First year only. One year, freshman year.
SINGLETARY: But listen, because he's following the advice that people said that you have to go to college. What they don't follow up with is that you can go to college without as much debt as he's incurring. He can stay at home. He can go to community college for two years. He can work one year and go. It may take a little bit longer. But if that young man graduates with that kind of debt, he's going to be disenfranchised. He's going to be -- he's going to lose his faith because he's going to say to himself, "I followed the American dream and look where it got me."
But he didn't follow the right path. And that's the problem I have with people taking on so much student loan debt.
O'BRIEN: You've been advising this man every step of the way.
SOARIES: I told Fred to get a job. I got a job for Fred two miles from his campus. He's chosen to take out loans.
I am not adamantly against borrowing for education. But I think work always comes before debt. So I agree. I think Fred can work. Sixteen thousand dollars at $200 a week can be cut down to $1,000 if he'll work. And work, you know, work won't kill you. There are people who go to college and work. And Fred is going to have to get a job. And I've told Fred that. I've told Kristy (ph) that, and I'll be back in New Jersey soon.
Cornell Belcher, I know you wanted to join the conversation. Let me just give everybody your introduction. He is a former pollster for the Democratic National Committee, now pollster for President Obama.
You know, often when we see stories about voter anger, it's pictures about white people. And they're talking about the Tea Party. They're talking about angry Republicans, but you don't really hear about black people. So...
CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: And here's the thing. And I argue, if you think -- if some people have a right to be angry, it's certainly black and brown people, given their unemployment rates are so much higher. Just my pushback on a lot of what we're seeing now.
That anger is not necessarily about the deficit. People don't get that angry about debt and taxes. They're angry about something culturally, which is going on...
O'BRIEN: Well, OK, then spell that out for me. What do you mean?
BELCHER: Well, this country is changing. Culturally this country is changing. And...
O'BRIEN: Culturally meaning more people of color?
BELCHER: Diversity. I mean, right now, you're at a time where almost 40 percent, a little over 40 percent of our younger people are now either black or brown. You know, America is changing. And that -- we're going to see sort of some major conflicts politically.
I mean, we probably are looking at a decade that maybe is tumultuous as the '60s when you look at sort of how this country is going to change culturally over the next decade or so. And people are going to fight that, and they're going to be resistant to that.
O'BRIEN: So for angry black voters who are thinking jobs, jobs, jobs, what do you see happening in the elections?
BELCHER: See, I don't think -- and not -- not just black voters, but when I -- and I pushed back on this with someone else earlier. It's like when you look at women are the majority of our electorate and we sort of miss that most of the time, that women are in fact the majority.
But when you look at those women, both white and black in middle America, Soledad, they're not so much angry as they're anxious and they're fearful. And someone's got to speak to that.
O'BRIEN: Are you finding that African-Americans, whether they're female or male, are engaged for this midterm election?
BELCHER: I'm working my butt off to engage them for this. But -- for this midterm election. But look, part of the problem is, I mean, they are sort of very anxious. They don't see the sort of engagement they had before. Right now, we're trying to connect the dots back up to the guy who brought them in, in the first place. I mean, they've got to have Barack Obama's back, but they're very hopeful about Barack Obama.
Let me say if Barack Obama could appoint every member of Congress and get unanimous support for every one of his policies, that does not negate our need to do exactly what we're doing. Because there are limits to what government can do. There's been a global economic shift.
And the people who are breaking their necks to get here, they're not trying to get here so that Barack Obama can get them a job. They're coming here to clean houses. They're coming here to cut grass. They're coming here to work on farms. They're coming here to take advantage of this dream.
So why is it that those of us who have been here, who have called ourselves African-Americans for 400 years, all of a sudden didn't see the dream? And people who are breaking their necks to get here and risking their lives can see the dream?
O'BRIEN: We're going to continue this conversation on the other side of the break. For decades, owning a home is a fundamental part of the American dream s that about to change for black Americans? We'll take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SOARIES: A sick person can't get well until the sick person admits that they're sick. A broke person cannot get un-broke until we admit that we're broke.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: We're back with "Almighty Debt." If you want to see more of what we've been talking about, you can you go to our Web site CNN.com/BlackInAmerica.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: People would say buy a home. You want to do well, step one, especially African Americans. Get a home. Own a home. Is that advice you'd give today?
SINGLETARY: Who are the people who told us to buy more than we could afford? The lenders. You know, I mean, there's only a few times in the Bible where Christ is actually angry, and one of them was at the money changers, because they had an ulterior motive.
O'BRIEN: But there's a difference between borrowing -- buying a house that's more than you can afford...
O'BRIEN: ... and buying a house?
SINGLETARY: But the formulas that they use allow you to borrow more than you can afford. They don't look at all your expenses. They just look at the debt. They don't look that you have cable and cell phone and send your kids to private school. They don't look at all of that.
And so we listened to their bad advice and overspent on our homes. Homeownership is the way to wealth. It's one of the ways. But we only heard part of the story. O'BRIEN: So the 25-year-old comes to you and says, "I've got a little money saved and I'm trying to increase my wealth. Michelle, what should I do with the money? Should I buy a house?"
SINGLETARY: First thing I ask them is do you have student loan debt, and the answer is going to be yes. And I say you need to pay off that debt first.
A home is the right thing at the right time. So if a 25-year-old comes to me, I say do you have an emergency fund? Do you have a life happens fund? Which I talk about all the time. Do you have debt? Get those things together, and then you will be prepared to be a homeowner. Because it's not cheap to be a homeowner.
SOARIES: We also have to talk about predatory lending. This issue is -- is more dramatic in minority communities than it is throughout the country, because the percentage of bad loans that were given were given, were given to black people. The percentage of high interest car notes are in the ghetto. There are no payday loan companies in the suburbs. There are no check-cashing joints in rural areas. There is a predatory nature to what we're dealing with.
O'BRIEN: Let's bring in Terrie Williams now. She is a PR maven, also author. She's president of the Terrie Williams Agency. And her book, which is called "Black Pain" talks about the incredible resiliency of African-Americans in the face of adversity. Nice to have you, Terrie.
TERRIE WILLIAMS, AUTHOR, "BLACK PAIN": Glad to be here.
O'BRIEN: When you look at the Jeffries' story, they are clearly in a lot of pain. Mrs. Jeffries talks a lot about her struggle to come out of poverty and how much she wanted. What do you think the impact of that thinking is, not just on her but on the population as a whole?
WILLIAMS: I think that debt, lack of resources is probably the leading cause of depression in the country today. I think that -- and we have to look at the myriad of reasons that people are in debt. It's not just misinformation. It's the reason that we buy things that we can't afford.
And when you don't release those challenges that you have inside, then you end up doing things like spending money that you don't have, drinking, taking drugs, promiscuous unprotected sex, definitely shopping when you don't have any money, gambling, violence, working and eating. We will do anything to keep from feeling the actual pain that we are experiencing.
O'BRIEN: One of the saddest things I thought was hearing Carl Fields say that he feels less than a man, to watch his wife go off to work every day while he's home. And he's a man who spends all day searching for a job. He's not just, you know, hanging out. How many of the people who you're advising and helping tell you that same thing? JAKES: We have an intense counseling program available because people are facing stress like never before. And to your point about men, I think because men are -- have a certain amount of ego attached to it and define their masculinity by their ability to provide. If he doesn't have a job or it's a low-paying job and he's used to having a high-paying job, and now he's flipping burgers, and he used to do something that brought in more income, his self-esteem really suffers in the process.
If he's married to someone who exacerbates the problem and is not sensitive in building him up into what else he brings to the relationship, he draws completely away from the relationship, becomes detached or may become violent because of it.
Fifty percent of our church out of 30,000 members are men. So we are down in the quagmire of dealing with the masculine soul and how we are being emasculated and losing our strength. It can come back, but a job and economic empowerment and feeling like he brings something to the house is critical for a man to feel like is he valuable to his own family.
WILLIAMS: And the other thing is I think we believe, you know, in Superman, Superwoman. The reality is, it is a myth. Does not exist, and you will die trying to be Superman or Superwoman.
Those are some of the things that I just think that we need to get help, and we're -- we are afraid of the stigma. We see it as a sign of weakness. We've been taught to keep whatever happens in the house, it stays in the house. We are -- we have been -- we just see it as a sign of weakness when, in fact, therapy is a gift that you give yourself.
And, you know, this is one of the things that we're doing is sharing your story with someone else. The people who shared their stories in this amazing documentary are very courageous people. Because they took a layer of that mask off and said, "I'm not standing out here by myself." And I can imagine -- only imagine the number of people who will say, "Thank you for sharing your story."
O'BRIEN: Can you motivate people? I mean, I think that there's a sense that you could motivate people for a march, you can motivate people for...
SOARIES: Can we motivate people or can people be motivated?
O'BRIEN: Can people be motivated? I stand duly corrected. Because I think that there is historically when it was marching, when it was images on television that would motivate people to say, "This is not OK. I'm going to go and support that. I'm going to be behind that." Debt, people say, "Eh."
JAKES: It's not just debt. The issue is the faith community has a huge instrument whereby they can motivate people. I'm more concerned about people outside of the faith community who do not have a drum major marching like this, who do not have someone saying, "You can get back up again. You can start over again," who is not speaking to the single mother and saying, "You may be in trouble right now but you can get out tomorrow."
Those simple things like inspiration and faith and hope may not be tangible, but they're critically vital to the revitalization of a community when you have nothing else from which you can draw strength.
O'BRIEN: We end the documentary with you sort of frustrated. You want D Free to be successful, and sometimes it feels like you're hitting your head against the wall. What's the future of that?
SOARIES: Well, I'm frustrated because I'm old, and I've been at this a long time. But for every ounce of frustration, there is a testimony of good news. Every single Sunday, someone reports that they've changed their lifestyle, they've bought some insurance, they've started a savings account.
And so we live in this tension between struggle and victory. But because of my faith, I believe joy comes in the morning.
O'BRIEN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Bishop T.D. Jakes and our panelists as well. I want to thank all our guests for joining us this evening: Michelle Singletary, Cornell Belcher and Terrie Williams, and of course Bishop Jakes and Pastor Soaries.
You can hear more from our guests right now at CNN.com/BlackInAmerica. You can also chime in there, as well, on Twitter and on Facebook.
I'm Soledad O'Brien. Thanks for watching us tonight. The news continues right now on CNN.