office of faith and justice

Through the Lens of Debt and Dignity…A Look at Summit 2024

By Drew Rau ’02, Assistant Principal for Ministry, Director, Office of Faith & Justice

The annual Summit on Human Dignity—a two-week series of programming on a given theme related to the dignity of the human experience and human communities—has become a distinctive part of the Brophy experience over the past two decades; it has also served as a model for other Jesuit schools to develop similar summits. Brophy was proud to carry on that tradition February 26 through March 7, while taking on a somewhat unexpected theme that often flies under the radar in conversations about social justice: Debt.

Brophy sought to focus on debt as an “issue behind the issues,” a force that gives rise to a host of problems facing our society today. This multifaceted topic allowed us to focus on specific issues that affect our world in a variety of ways, and some of which we may be familiar with on a personal level: medical debt; student loan debt and forgiveness; equitable access to loans/mortgages; national debt; developing nations’ debt burden; consumer debt; and more.

This year’s summit opened with a keynote address by Craig Antico, co-founder of the nonprofit RIP Medical Debt and the public benefit corporation ForgiveCo. After a career as an executive in the debt collection industry, Mr. Antico translated his skills to become a pioneer in the field of debt using his knowledge and networks to buy debt from creditors for pennies on the dollar not to collect on the debt, but instead to notify the debtors that their debt has been forgiven — a blessing that enables people to move forward with hope for themselves and their families.

As part of Mr. Antico’s opening keynote, he announced an exciting partnership between his organization, ForgiveCo, and Brophy College Preparatory: The Bronco Jubilee. This initiative incorporated our annual Lenten Drive fundraising into a debt forgiveness program orchestrated through the expertise of ForgiveCo. The organization identifies low-income people with debt across Maricopa County and surrounding areas and purchases their debt for pennies on the dollar on Brophy’s behalf. As a result, our school can bring financial relief and upward mobility to folks who have been stuck in circumstances that have revolved around servicing their debts — many of which were thrust upon them by circumstance — rather than pursuing their dreams.

Brophy succeeded in raising more than $13,000, and Mr. Antico generously offered to personally contribute $20,000 to this effort, allowing the Bronco Jubilee to raise more than $33,000 to purchase debt that will translate to more than $1.5 million in debt forgiveness across Maricopa County. We look forward to continuing to work with ForgiveCo community whose debt Brophy will forgive through this effort.

Our second keynote address was a ground-level view of the impacts of debt from three women: Jennifer Kiernan, executive director of Saving Amy, which serves individuals and families in transitioning successfully out of homelessness; and two women whom Saving Amy has successfully served, Tillie McCoy and Pamela Roselle. Their engaging stories of their debt-related journeys through and out of homelessness was followed by our Summit Workshop Day, in which 40 guest presenters to present topics related to the intersection of debt and human dignity.

In addition to learning about the ways debt affects those on the margins of society, we also know well that our students will soon be facing choices on how to navigate debt, if they’re not already doing so. We brought in family wealth strategists David Bloom ’00 and Kim Llumiquinga from TFO Family Office Partners to give our students a crash course in financial literacy on items such as credit scores, good credit versus bad credit and advice on how to effectively pay down debt.

Our final keynote was offered by Braxton Brewington, press secretary for The Debt Collective, a national debtors’ union fighting to cancel debts and defend millions of households. Mr. Brewington has been instrumental in getting the message of unjust debt practices and the importance of debt forgiveness out to diverse audiences. His address highlighted the spiritual, political, cultural, racial, gender and socioeconomic intersections at which debt operates. By the end of the assembly, we had to cut students off given the sheer number of questions they wanted to ask Mr. Brewington, showing just how deeply he had engaged them.

We had a fun activity day in which our students played on online game, “SPENT.” They had to navigate difficult financial decisions from the point of view of an adult living with an average amount of income and financial responsibilities—an eye-opening experience for many students! We then discussed this through a talk show-style forum and invited some students to participate in a game show we called, “The Price Is Debt,” in which they had to make educated guesses on the levels of debt incurred through certain purchases.

We ended the summit with a closing prayer service that included reflections on the artwork created to illustrate the summit’s theme, such as from Chris Alvarez ‘25, who designed this year’s poster. 

Mr. Chris Agliano of the Religious Studies department offered a reflection on the biblical Jubilee as an aspirational vision of what a society of just and dignified financial relationships can look like.

After the summit’s two weeks, students gained greater awareness of how norms and practices around debt we take for granted and may feel easy for some families to navigate, present significant challenges to people who find themselves in less fortunate circumstances. They also walked away with greater financial literacy—something that can benefit their personal financial decision making.

AlvarezFinalPoster

And, in the midst of our summit, Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs announced a debt forgiveness initiative through the nonprofit Mr. Antico co-founded, RIP Medical Debt, to bring relief to an even greater number of our fellow citizens, spreading the spirit of our Summit on Human Dignity across the great state of Arizona.