Juneteenth is a federal holiday now in the United States that recognizes the emancipation of enslaved black Americans. June 19, celebrated on June 19, celebrates the release of the last of 250,000 enslaved black people when 2,000 union soldiers arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas and announced this executive order. But was slavery totally abolished? Webster’s Dictionary defines slavery as the state of a person who is held in forced servitude or a situation or practice in which people are entrapped in debt and exploited. While slavery was abolished here in the United States, some say it exists in a different way today.
“Shame. Guilt. And a lot of my family members, you know, they 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, left her almost penniless as a single mother and forced her to file for bankruptcy. “You have to pay rent,” Caldwell said. “I don’t like overdrafts. don’t like to be late. It’s an easy way. All you need is a check.
“So you walked into the store?” asked Evrod Cassimy of Local 4. “No!” she replied. “Actually, I went online. You can also do it online. “Why didn’t you go into the store?” Cassimi asked. “Because I’m Orletta Caldwell, you know, Masters in Business. You don’t do that kind of stuff. “So you were embarrassed?” “I was embarrassed!”
What would ensue would be a cycle of payday loans with incredibly high interest rates just to make ends meet. A $600 payday loan can come with a $75 fee and an APR of almost 400%. The $675 payday loan is taken from your next paycheque. Orletta would then have to take out another payday loan to make up for the money she paid back. She began to notice a pattern. “They heavily target minorities, people from neighborhoods of color,” she said. “When you have someone trapped…and they’re in that cycle and they can’t get out of it, that’s slavery.”
“We noticed, and data carriers, many of these convenience businesses, check advance spaces, are located in black and brown communities. Black and brown and poor and otherwise disenfranchised communities,” said Omari Hall. “There is no 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. He explains why credit cards and other traditional banking options are not possible.
“There has always been a deserved mistrust on the part of the black and brown community of the financial services system in general,” Hall said. “This distrust comes from decades, if not centuries, of systemic disenfranchisement where there has not been a support system in place for blacks and browns and the poor to participate in this type of banking system. With very few traditional or safer alternative banking options and instead the option they have is these payday loan systems, these check cashing systems that are extremely exploitative. Exploitation resembles financial slavery.
“Do you believe that modern slavery exists?” Cassimy asked Seydi Sarr. “It always existed,” replied Sarr. Sarr refers to the types of people she sees being victims of human trafficking. This comes with the territory in the work she does with ABISA, the African Bureau for Immigration and Social Affairs.
“Here in Michigan, for example, we’re known to be the epicenter of what you call modern-day human trafficking,” Sarr said. “Detroit sees a lot of missing girls. Most of the girls that are missing here are black girls. You find young black women, you find a lot of immigrant women in there.” She thinks black women are the most slaves to this world because they are the easiest to target. “Who’s going to come get you? Hmmm… Who’s coming for you? Nobody! So it’s easier to target the most vulnerable because there won’t be any real outcry to ensure that these people are found, sought after.
“Why is that a thing? How is that possible?” Cassimi asked. “It’s possible because I think we still struggle to recognize the humanity of black people. We are used to black bodies being abused. As black women, we talk a lot about how we are perceived. So a 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 that make you feel as a black woman?” Cassimi asked. “Crazy! I’m mad! I’m mad all the time!” Sarre replied “How do we end modern slavery so that everyone is truly free?” modern slavery, we need to do a lot more work.”
This work includes the fight for equality for all humanity. This is the work that Seydi does daily at ABISA. Orletta Caldwell is working to reduce interest rates on payday loans and cash advances. “They have a ballot initiative. I want it capped at 36%,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell was able to find a way out of his financial troubles by saving only a small percentage of his own money. Today, her credit score is repaired, she has a great job, and after completing her doctorate, she is now Dr. Orletta Caldwell. She had this message for anyone financially enslaved: “You’re not a bad person. You will get there, but you just have to be determined to get through it.
For more information about GreenPath Financial Wellness, please visit: https://www.greenpath.com/
For more information on ABISA, please visit: https://linktr.ee/africanbureau
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