Living in a diverse country and functioning within a global economy, it is imperative that businesses and companies have diverse leadership and executive teams to ensure that they can remain competitive. The business case is more compelling than the social case. Our employees and our executives must reflect the world within which we plan to do business. Our ability to function effectively in a diverse environment is enhanced by having diverse teams
As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Dr. DeForest B. Soaries Jr.
Dr. DeForest B. Soaries, Jr. is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey, former New Jersey Secretary of State, and the author of the books “Say Yes to No Debt: 12 Steps to Financial Freedom”, “Meditations for Financial Freedom — Volumes 1&2” and “Say Yes When Life Says No.” He is the creator of dfree® — a financial freedom movement in use by thousands of churches and organizations across the country. dfree® has been featured by CNN in a 90-minute Black in America documentary entitled, “Almighty Debt.” His work has also been featured in several publications, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Black Enterprise. Dr. Soaries is currently a member of the Board of Directors at Ocwen Financial Corp. (NYSE: OCN), Independence Realty Trust (NYSE: IRT) and Federal Home Loan Bank of New York. He serves as the Compensation Chair on all three boards
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up in a very religious home where my father was a teacher/high school administrator and my mother was a corporate secretary. I attended a segregated public elementary school in Montclair, New Jersey where 25% of the population was black. I was active in youth and student sports — baseball and basketball — and became a student activist when I was a junior in high school. That is when I helped organize one of the first high school Black Student Unions in the country.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Black Power by Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton. This book helped me understand institutional racism as being different from individual racism and has guided my work during my entire adult life.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
“The only thing worse than not having what you need is not using what you have.”
This resonates because as a black man I have recognized the injustices that are embedded in our very existence. But we also have opportunities that we must pursue even while racism exists. Our church took advantage of opportunities to lead a revitalization initiative in our neighborhood that has improved thousands of lives despite the racism that exists that caused the neighborhood to be so neglected.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is taking responsibility for, articulating a vision, creating a plan and building a team that takes action to execute a strategy to achieve the vision.
This is what I have spent the last 30 years doing at First Baptist Church. It is also what I have spent the last 15 years doing with dfree®.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
- I do my homework to ensure that I understand the issues, the facts and the key participants or audience.
- I pray.
Example: I have a partnership with Prudential that requires meetings, strategies, public appearances and measurable outcomes. The relationship has lasted 9 years because I am always prepared and I always deliver.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
The significant historical injustice that causes persistent tension is the racial injustice that stems from the enslavement of black people for 246 years and extended into segregation for more than 100 more years. The major disparities that exist can be traced to that part of our history. However, many of the remedies to racial inequities are broadly addressed as affirmative action, tolerance, diversity, inclusion and other initiatives that fail to focus specifically on solutions for black people specifically. Until we address the specific economic, educational and emotional needs of black people — descendants of African slaves — we will also be at a boiling point.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?
My professional life has included work in helping corporations recruit and train diverse talent and procure from diverse suppliers. As a corporate director and chair of compensation committees, I hold executives accountable for efforts to hire and promote diverse candidates also. However, my personal passion is to help black people and black businesses expand opportunities and expand their successes. For instance, I have an online course to teach black people how to become paid corporate directors based on my experience on seven corporate boards.
Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Living in a diverse country and functioning within a global economy, it is imperative that businesses and companies have diverse leadership and executive teams to ensure that they can remain competitive. The business case is more compelling than the social case. Our employees and our executives must reflect the world within which we plan to do business. Our ability to function effectively in a diverse environment is enhanced by having diverse teams.
You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a short story or example for each
- Identify best practices in corporate governance, employment and procurement and scale the practices.
- Repair the public school system and focus on outcomes that represent graduates that can compete with their global counterparts.
- Completely overhaul the prison system focusing on corrections rather than punishment for minor offenses.
- Ensure that everyone has access to quality heath care.
- Create investment platforms that are accessible to black people.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain how or why?
Most people are neither activists or politicians. Most people are desirous of opportunities to improve the quality of life for themselves and their families. We have an entire generation of Americans that are committed to working and living together. They have grown up listening to the same music, wearing the same fashion styles, cheering for the same athletes and dreaming the same dreams. Racial attitudes have changed drastically in the last 50 years. And growth in this area will continue to evolve and mature. The great threats to America are these:
- Our educational system is failing to prepare our children to compete globally.
- Our lack of appreciation for the value of the nuclear family is undermining the transmission of value that are foundational for a strong society.
- Consumerism has reached a level of secular idolatry and living above our means will make us a debtor society that exacerbates wealth gaps and robs the future in advance.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Jeff Bezos. Sears should have done what Amazon did. Bezos saw a future that no one else saw and became the richest man in the world in a relatively short period of time.
How can our readers follow you online?
My website is dbsoaries.com and you can follow along with me on my social channels linked below.
– Instagram: @dbsoaries
– Facebook: facebook.com/DBSOARIES/
– Twitter: twitter.com/dbsoaries