Barely a year old, the Black Clergy Collaborative of Memphis (BCCM) has a collective focus on delivering a crippling blow to predatory lending companies that offer payday loans.
“It’s really legalized loan sharking,” said Pastor Darrell Harrington of New Sardis Baptist Church during an Aug. 18 event at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church.
“We partnered with Hope Credit Union here in Memphis to give a message of hope to many in our congregation concerning their financial well-being.”
Payday loans generally, according to researchers, are relatively small – $350 to $425 – short-term loans that, depending on the terms and conditions, can carry interest rates ranging around 400 percent or more.
That means a person taking out a $400 loan could end up having to replay $1,600.
The people, who cannot open a banking account, rely on these type loans to pay bills or take care of financial emergencies.
BCCM’s playbook involves a plan to offer services from a traditional banking institution that rival what predatory lenders claim to offer.
“I worked for Hope Credit Union as its regional program officer,” said Harrington. “My job was to preach the message of hope to people, whether it was with credit issues, or they were ‘unbankable,’ meaning they had left a balance over at some other bank. Whatever the financial obstacles, we could change the narrative to financial wholeness.”
Dr. J. Lawrence Turner, pastor of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, experienced a profound awakening as the murder of George Floyd spurred weeks of protests in the streets.
That awakening created a vision of the “black church” returning to the height of prominence as not only spreading the gospel throughout slavery, Jim Crow and beyond, but also “relied upon to address the issues that affected its members.”
Here was the beginning of the BCCM.
The three areas of concern as objectives identified by Turner are economic empowerment, criminal justice reform and economic empowerment.
Harrington, who is secretary of the organization, also heads the Economic Empowerment component.
Harrington is continuing that work in the collaborative. BCCM’s partnership with Hope Credit Union has devised a plan to raise $50,000 and Hope will match that amount.
The $100,000 will be used to back short-term loans to those who have traditionally resorted to check-cashing, pay day vendors.
“You will find tote-the-note car lots, pay-day lenders and liquor stores in our communities,” said Harrington in reference to some liquor stores cashing payroll checks for a fee or a requirement that the check’s possessor make a purchase from the store.
“But you will hardly find a grocery store where we live. We want to liberate our people from the injustices holding us back, even if we don’t see them as injustices.”
Harrington said the collaborative will support financial wellness through the partnership.
“We want to end the poisonous predatory lending practices so pervasive in our community,” Harrington said.
Now, with 40 pastor members and their congregations, $10,000 of the $50,000 pledge has been raised.
“We are calling on every business, every organization and every individual who wants to see financial wholeness come to fruition for many of our people, to give to this cause,” said Harrington.
BCCM Executive Director Shirley Bondon said some action also has been initiated on civic engagement.
“We have opened discussions with Collierville leaders about removing the Confederate statue in the town square,” said Bondon. “No action has been taken yet, but we have at least initiated a discussion.”
Turner is the collaborative’s founder and president. The website touts the BCCM as: “Expressing the Voice of the Black Church.”
An online statement, in part, reads:
” …In the twenty-first century, the Black Church remains vital to African American religious life; however, some black churches have not remained as involved in its members’ social, political and economic life. The Black Clergy Collaborative of Memphis was organized to lead the Black Church’s resurgence as advocates for social justice.”
Hope Credit Union articulates its mission as “To strengthen communities, build assets and improve lives in economically distressed areas of the Deep South by providing access to high quality financial products and related services.”
(For more information, visit blackclergycollaborative.org; hopecu.org. Both partners are accepting donations for the $50,000 projected goal of the BCCM.)