rev-floyd-flake_fc.jpgMIAMI — Although she began her presentation by reporting on the country’s dismal economic climate, Lisa Rogers-Cherry promised a group of about 75 people gathered last weekend for a financial seminar that “I didn’t come here to depress you… be encouraged, no matter what you’re going through, God has not forgotten about His children.”

Rogers-Cherry was a part of the Collective Banking Group of Miami-Dade & Vicinity’s third annual Empowerment Weekend Conference.

The local CBG is a branch of the national, Maryland-based CBG. It comprises 67 churches throughout Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties that, according to its web site, “forcefully advocate the black church as the most effective vehicle to bring about economic empowerment, wealth building, and a community of educated consumers.”

Formed over 14 years ago, the CBG began in an affluent African-American section of Maryland after several church pastors and members raised concerns about inequitable access to services provided by local banks and businesses. The Miami branch is headed by the Rev. Joaquin Willis, pastor of The Church of the Open Door and a South Florida Times columnist.

The local CBG has relationships with six major banks in South Florida – Bank of America, Citibank, Great Florida Bank, One United Bank, Wachovia and Washington Mutual – that allow it to offer savings, loans and other benefits to members, according to its website.

At last week’s seminar, Rogers-Cherry offered humor, common sense and solid financial advice for people looking to control credit card spending, abide by a budget, and reduce debt.

The financial planner and author of Lifting the Burdens of Debt: A Helpful Guide to Getting Your Debts Paid and Your Life Back on Track, walked participants through a sample budget she prepared for the fictitious Sally Savenot – discussing with audience members steps that “Sally” could take to reduce her debt.

“You only need to have two credit cards…and make sure that you don’t use more than half of your balance,” to prevent lowering your credit score, she advised.

Audience member Joyce Kimball-Williams, a minister at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church of Miami, volunteered her own financial advice: “I buy my milk at Walgreens, gas from Costco, and only give teenagers cell phones with a Metro PCS plan so that you know in advance what the bill will be.”

Althea Harris of the Small Business Administration offered churches ingenious ways to increase revenue while encouraging entrepreneurship. She urged church leaders to use some of the building space that is currently being used for storage as office space. That space, she said, could be used for small businesses that the church creates.

“Can you imagine having a beauty salon on church property, there’s praise music being played and you have gifted technicians ministering to you?” she asked.

Though they are competitors, financial planners Eric Pettus, founder and partner of Pettus and Dawkins Financial Group; and Bernard Lee of Laurus Wealth Management, teamed up to present the wealth-building portion of the seminar.

“The sooner the better,” was Lee’s reply to an audience member’s question about when blacks should begin learning about investing. “In our communities, in our cultures, we start a little later, whereas maybe in some white community it’s spoken of at the dinner table.”

Pettus urged audience members to seek professional assistance with their finances. “Everybody should have a financial planner,” he said, offering a basic explanation of the process:

“…Financial planning is begun with figuring out what a person first has coming in, and then figuring out what they have going out, and then what’s left…’’ Pettus explained, adding, “Now if what you have left does not meet your goal, now you have to look at, ‘Am I earning enough, am I spending too much or is this an unrealistic goal for me?’”

He cautioned the audience to step away from cultural myths regarding money.

“One of the big things that we have to start looking at as a whole is getting rid of this taboo of discussing our finances. That’s the biggest problem for us as black people,” Pettus said.

Photo by Khary Bruyning. The Rev. Floyd Flake delivers the keynote address for the Collective Banking Group of Miami-Dade & Vicinity’s 3rd Annual Empowerment Weekend Conference.