Juneteenth is a federal holiday now in the United States that recognizes the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans. Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19th, celebrates when the last of the 250,000 enslaved Black people were freed when 2,000 union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, and announced that executive decree. But has slavery been fully 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 by debt and exploited. While slavery was abolished here in the U.S., some say it exists in a different way today.
“Shame. Guilt. And a lot of my family, you know, they didn’t have 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 nearly penniless as a single mom, and forced her to file for bankruptcy. “You gotta pay rent,” said Caldwell. “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 into the store?” asked Local 4′s Evrod Cassimy. “No!” she replied. “Actually I went online. You can do it online too.” “Why did you not go into the store?” asked Cassimy. “Because I’m Orletta Caldwell, you know, Master in Business. You don’t do that kind of stuff.” “So you were embarrassed?” “I was embarrassed!”
What would follow would be a cycle of payday loans with incredibly high-interest rates just to make ends meet. A payday loan for $600 can come with a $75 fee and an APR at sometimes nearly 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 started to notice a trend. “They target heavily minority, people of color neighborhoods,” she said. “When you have somebody trapped...and they’re in this cycle and can’t get out of it, that’s slavery.”
“We’ve noticed, and the data supports, many of these payday companies, check cash advance spaces, are located in Black and Brown communities. Black and Brown and poor and otherwise disenfranchised communities,” 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. He explains why credit cards and other traditional banking options are not possible.
“There has historically been an earned distrust from the Black and Brown community from the financial services system in general,” said Hall. “That distrust comes from decades, centuries even, of systemic disenfranchisement where there has not been a support system set up for Black and Brown and poor people to participate in that type of banking system. With very little alternative traditional or quote-unquote safer banking options and instead, the option that they have are these payday loans systems, these check cashing systems that are extremely exploitative. The exploitation feels like financial slavery.”
“Do you believe that modern-day slavery exists?” Cassimy asked Seydi Sarr. “It has always existed,” Sarr replied. Sarr is referring to the types of people she sees falling victim to human trafficking. It 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 are known to be the epicenter of what you call modern-day human trafficking,” said Sarr. “Detroit sees a lot of girls missing. Most of the girls who are missing here are Black girls. You find young Black women, you find a lot of immigrant women in there.” She believes Black women are the most enslaved in this world because they’re the easiest to target. “Who is going to come for you? Hmmm...Who is coming for you? Nobody! So it’s easier to target the most vulnerable because there is not going to be a real uproar to make sure these people are being found, are being looked for.”
“Why is that a thing? How is that possible?” asked Cassimy. “It’s possible because I think we still struggle with recognizing the humanity of Black people. We are used to Black bodies being mistreated. As a Black woman, we talk a lot of about how we are perceived. So a Black woman can only be angry. People don’t see your pain the same. People don’t see your tears the same.”
“How does this make you feel as a Black woman?” asked Cassimy. “Mad! I’m mad! I’m mad all the time!” Sarr replied. “How do we end modern-day slavery so that everybody truly is free?” asked Cassimy. “I think to end modern-day slavery we have to do so much more work.”
That work includes fighting for equality for all humanity. That’s work that Seydi does daily at ABISA. Orletta Caldwell is working towards lowering interest rates for payday loans and cash advances. “They do have a ballot initiative out. I want it capped at 36%,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell was able to find a way out of her financial troubles by saving just a small percentage of her own money. Today, her credit score is repaired, she has a great job, and after completing her Ph.D., she’s now Dr. Orletta Caldwell. She had this message for anyone enslaved financially: “You’re not a bad person. You will make it but you just gotta be determined that you will get out of it.”
For more information on GreenPath Financial Wellness please visit: https://www.greenpath.com/
For more information on ABISA please visit: https://linktr.ee/africanbureau