As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. DeForest B. Soaries, Jr.
The Reverend Dr. DeForest B. Soaries, Jr. has served as the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens (FBCLG) in Somerset, New Jersey since November 1990. His pastoral ministry focuses on spiritual growth, educational excellence, and economic empowerment.
As a pioneer of faith-based community development, Dr. Soaries’s impact on First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens (FBCLG) and the community has been tremendous. In 1992, he founded the Central Jersey Community Development Corporation (CJCDC): a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that specializes in revitalizing distressed neighborhoods. In 1996, Soaries founded the Harvest of Hope Family Services Network, Inc. (HOH). This organization develops permanent solutions for children in the foster care system.
From 1999 to 2002, Dr. Soaries served as New Jersey’s Secretary of State, making him the first African-American male to do so. He also served as the former chairman of the United States Election Assistance Commission, which was established by Congress to implement the “Help America Vote Act” of 2002.
In 2005, Dr. Soaries launched the dfree® Financial Freedom Movement. The dfree® strategy teaches people how to break free from debt as the first step toward financial freedom. dfree® was featured in a 90-minute CNN documentary “Almighty Debt.” He is the author of the books “Say Yes to No Debt: 12 Steps to Financial Freedom”, and “Meditations for Financial Freedom — Volumes 1&2.”
Dr. Soaries currently serves as an independent director at three companies: Independence Realty Trust, Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, and Ocwen Financial Corporation.
Dr. Soaries earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Fordham University, a Master of Divinity Degree from Princeton Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Ministry Degree from United Theological Seminary.
Dr. Soaries resides in Monmouth Junction, New Jersey with his wife, Donna, and twin sons.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
On April 4, 1968, I saw my maternal grandmother cry for the first time in my life. Her tears were caused by the tragic death of Martin Luther King, Jr. My grandmother was not an activist — she was a domestic worker and employed by a wealthy family to care for their home and their children. Dr. King’s life and work meant so much to her that his death brought her to tears. I decided that day that I wanted my life to be as meaningful to someone as Dr. King’s life was to my grandmother. All of my activities and endeavors since then have been pursuant to that commitment.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I have always been passionate about addressing the injustices experienced by black people. I once saw a young black guy running from a white guy who looked like he wanted to do some harm to him. I chased and caught the white guy and knocked him down. It turned out that the white guy was a cop chasing a black shoplifter. I spent the night in jail and was charged with assaulting a police officer. Fortunately, the charges were ultimately dropped. But I learned to do my homework before I jump into situations.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
“The Magic of Thinking Big” helped me balance my personal need to sustain myself while remaining committed to working for a cause.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
My vision was to use my corporate connections to create community resources that could improve the quality of life for black people.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Yes. Build and nurture the best team possible. A great team is the only way to have a great business.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We have had a few family deaths during Covid 19. Beyond that not many challenges. Leading a congregation through this period as a pastor has been the largest challenge. The priority has been to communicate and stay so connected to the people that no one feels alone during this time.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The biggest challenge has been our inability to grow the business. We now have strategies for business growth without physical meetings.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I suggest turning off the news from time to time and enjoy entertainment and people. Some have actually disconnected all electronic devices and spent more quiet time and reflection moments intentionally. My wife has spent more time taking walks. My son has done a lot of reading.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
I intend to develop more digital media assets and offers now that people have become accustomed to more online activities.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
On one level I think we will appreciate the times we spend together after we have had to remain apart for such a long time. On another level, I believe our virtual options will remain viable means of interacting and be used much more than it would have been otherwise.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
I plan to do more to assist other black-owned businesses to shift, pivot, and grow in a post-Covid 19 environment.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Set financial goals and determine the most viable strategy to achieve them. Whatever that means and whatever it takes. Do not allow yourself to be stuck in an old model of the past. Look for new opportunities and execute a strategy to take advantage of them.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The only thing worse than not having what you need is not using what you have.
I have learned to stop waiting for what I may want and rather do something meaningful and productive with what I have.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Visiting my website: https://dbsoaries.com/
Or my social platforms:
IG and Twitter: @dbsoaries