DeForest B. Soaries
Founder of dfree® Financial Freedom Movement
Dr. DeForest B. Soaries, Jr. is the Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey. His pastoral ministry focuses on spiritual growth, educational excellence, economic empowerment and faith-based community development.
He is the author of Say Yes to No Debt: 12 Steps to Financial Freedom, which was published in 2011 and 2015 by Zondervan. Previously titled dfree®: Breaking Free from Financial Slavery, the book is based on Dr. Soaries’ dfree® strategy, which uses a four-prong approach to teach people how to be debt free. He developed this strategy while helping his 7,000-member congregation to become debt free. A dfree® lifestyle means living without debt, deficits and delinquencies. The dfree® strategy, established in 2005, is available to churches, credit unions and colleges and universities across America. dfree® was also the focus of the third installment of CNN’s Black in America documentary Almighty Debt, which aired Oct. 21, 2010. The 90-minute cable-news feature highlighted three families at First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens who were facing tough financial times as a result of the recession, from home foreclosure to underemployment and the struggles associated with paying for college.
Nearly a year after dfree® was featured on CNN, Dr. Soaries announced the Billion Dollar Challenge (BDC) on Oct. 7, 2011. BDC is a grassroots campaign that challenges people to pay off their debt. His goal is to get 125,000 people to pay off $1 billion in debt by 2020. Participants are able to track their debt payments through an online tool on the BDC website. Dr. Soaries has also launched a multi-city campaign to spread the word about the Challenge. In addition to helping people to live dfree®, Dr. Soaries is known for being an active agent for change.
He served as the mediator and facilitator in the meeting between Don Imus and the Rutgers women’s basketball team on April 12, 2007, after the radio talk show host used racially insensitive language to describe the Scarlet Knights. His experience in creating change stems from his youth. As a college student, Dr. Soaries led a campaign against drug use on campus that resulted in his being kidnapped at gunpoint from his dormitory room by drug dealers.
He later worked on civil rights issues for the Urban League as a community organizer and Operation PUSH as the national coordinator. His roles during and after college eventually led to historic and noteworthy government positions. From Jan. 12, 1999 to Jan. 15, 2002, Dr. Soaries served as New Jersey’s 30th Secretary of State making him the first African-American male to serve as a constitutional officer of the state. In this position, he managed one of the premier departments of state government and served as a senior advisor to the governor on issues that transcended traditional departmental lines. Dr. Soaries is also the former chairman of the United States Election Assistance Commission. This commission was established by Congress to implement the Help America Vote Act of 2002. Dr. Soaries was appointed by The President of the United States on Dec. 15, 2003 after being confirmed by the United States Senate. He was elected chairman of the commission on Jan. 5, 2004 at the first meeting of the four-member bi-partisan commission. In November 2004, this commission was the first federal agency to oversee a presidential election.
Dr. Soaries is a popular speaker at colleges, universities, conferences and churches around the world as well as a frequent advisor to major corporations in the areas of diversity, philanthropy and community relations. He is also special advisor to His Majesty the Okyenhene (King) of the Akyem Abuaka Traditional Kingdom in Ghana, Osageyfuo Amoatia Ofori Panin II.
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. He has also received six Honorary Doctorate Degrees from institutions of higher learning. He was recently recognized by the both houses of the New Jersey Legislature for his religious and community leadership. His work has been featured in several publications including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Ebony Magazine, Black Enterprise and Government Executive Magazine.
Born in New York and raised in New Jersey, Dr. Soaries resides in Monmouth Junction, New Jersey with his wife, Donna and twin sons, Malcolm and Martin.