Juneteenth is a federal holiday now in the United States that recognizes the emancipation of enslaved black Americans. June 19, celebrated June 19, celebrates the liberation of the last 250,000 enslaved blacks when 2,000 union soldiers arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, and announced that executive order. But has slavery been completely abolished? Webster’s Dictionary defines slavery as the state of a person being held in forced servitude or a situation or practice in which people are trapped by debt and exploited. While slavery was abolished here in the US, some say it exists today in a different way.
“Shame. Guilt. And a lot of my family, you know, had no money.” That’s how Orletta Caldwell describes the feeling of having to take out a payday loan. In 2008, a bad divorce ruined her credit, the left her nearly penniless as a single mother and forced her to file for bankruptcy.”You have to pay rent,” Caldwell said.”I don’t like overdrafts. I don’t like being late. It’s an easy way. All you need is a check.
“So you went to the store?” asked Evrod Cassimy of Local 4. “No!” She answered. “I actually connected. You can also do it online. “Why didn’t you go to the store?” Cassimy asked. “Because I’m Orletta Caldwell, you know, MBA. You don’t do that kind of thing.” “So you were embarrassed?” “He was ashamed!”
What would follow would be a cycle of payday loans with insanely high interest rates just to make ends meet. A $600 payday loan can have a fee of $75 and an APR sometimes close to 400%. The $675 payday loan is taken out of your next paycheck. Orletta would then have to take out another payday loan to make up for the money she paid back. She began to notice a trend. “They target minority neighborhoods, people of color,” she said. “When you have someone trapped…and they’re in this cycle and they can’t get out, that’s slavery.”
“We have realized, and the data backs it up, that many of these payday companies, check cash advance slots, are located in African American and Latino communities. Black and brown communities and poor and otherwise disenfranchised,” said Omari Hall. “There is not an immediate presence of more traditional banking options in these black and brown neighborhoods.” Hall is with GreenPath Financial Wellness and has worked with 750 people this year to get them out of this payday loan cycle. She explains why credit cards and other traditional banking options aren’t possible.
“Historically there has been an earned mistrust by the Black and Brown community of the financial services system in general,” Hall said. “That distrust stems from decades, even centuries, of systemic disenfranchisement where there hasn’t been an established support system for Black, Brown, and poor people to participate in that type of banking system. With very few traditional or quote safer alternative banking options and instead the option they have is these payday loan systems, these check cashing systems that are extremely exploitative. Exploitation feels like financial slavery.”
“Do you think modern slavery exists?” Cassimy asked Seydi Sarr. “It has always existed,” Sarr replied. Sarr is referring to the kinds of people she sees who are victims of human trafficking. She comes to the territory in the work she does with ABISA, the African Office for Immigration and Social Affairs.
“Here in Michigan, for example, we are known to be the epicenter of what you call modern human trafficking,” Sarr said. “Detroit sees a lot of missing girls. Most of the girls missing here are black girls. You find young black women, you find a lot of immigrant women there.” She believes that black women are the most enslaved in this world because they are the easiest to attack. “Who is going to come for you? Hmmm… Who’s coming for you? No one! So it’s easier to target the most vulnerable because there’s not going to be a real fuss to make sure that these people are found, that they’re being searched for.”
“Why is that a thing? How is that possible?” asked Cassimy. “It’s possible because I think we still struggle to recognize the humanity of black people. We’re used to black bodies being mistreated. As a black woman, we talk a lot about how we’re perceived. Black woman can only be angry. People don’t see your pain the same way. People don’t see your tears the same way.”
“How does this make you feel as a black woman?” Cassimy asked. “Angry! I’m crazy! I’m angry all the time!” Sarr replied, “How do we end modern day slavery so that everyone is truly free?” Cassimy asked. “I think to end modern slavery we have to work a lot harder.”
That work includes fighting for equality for all humanity. That is the work that Seydi does on a daily basis at ABISA. Orletta Caldwell is working to lower interest rates on payday loans and cash advances. “They have an electoral initiative. I want it capped at 36%,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell was able to find a way out of his financial problems by saving only a small percentage of his own money. Today, her credit score is fixed, she has a great job, and after completing her Ph.D., she is now Dr. Orletta Caldwell. She had this message for anyone financially enslaved: “You are not a bad person. You will make it, but you just have to be determined to get out of it.”
For more information on GreenPath Financial Wellness, visit: https://www.greenpath.com/
For more information about ABISA, visit: https://linktr.ee/africanbureau
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