Ricardo C. Sandy | RCS Images LLC Jude Bernard
Jude Bernard wants to share his knowledge about finance to help people of color get ahead.
A New York real estate entrepreneur and founder of The Brooklyn Bank — a nonprofit organization focusing on financial literacy, education and wealth building — Bernard partnered with personal finance company Stash to hold the first-ever Black Money Forum on Juneteenth.
"Juneteenth has always been celebrated as a day of freedom," Bernard tells PEOPLE. In order to be able to exercise financial freedom to "the fullest capacity," he adds, communities of color need a place to learn information that hasn't been historically available to them.
"In 2014, I also started doing little workshops and just meeting with people," he says. "Next thing you know, there's a community out there."
Ricardo C. Sandy | RCS Images LLC The Black Money Forum
As the scale of the organization has grown, so too have the people who've been helped.
"When we first started, we were hearing stories of like, 'Hey, thank you for the time that you took the teachers, we're saving an extra $300 a month,'" he recalls. "And now we're hearing stories like, 'Hey, thank you — I'm on my fourth property,' or, 'I'm franchising my business,' or, 'I've set up a trust for my children.'"
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Bernard says he has been through it all, from amassing a portfolio worth millions to losing it all in the Great Recession and then having to build back.
Now he hopes everyone who attended the Black Money Forum walked away knowing that "it's possible" to succeed, too: "Whatever situation that you are currently in, there is the opportunity to do more so long as you put the work in and educate yourself," he says.
As for where to start, Bernard says it's important to gain the confidence that you can achieve your goals, and then "constantly, constantly, constantly learning."
The Brooklyn Bank also helps local communities in a number of ways, including giving away turkeys at Thanksgiving and toys during the holiday season. Partnering with Stash has been a way to take their efforts to the next level. "Every dollar that does not have to come outside the home is a dollar that could be invested," he says.
Just that little difference has the potential to "change the trajectory" for a family, helping "create some generational wealth," he adds.
"It is so important that Black and brown people get educated because we are so far behind," Bernard continues. "If you are so far behind in a race, you cannot run at the same pace that the people ahead of you have to run."
Ricardo C. Sandy | RCS Images LLC Attendees at the Black Money Forum
Though financial principles are universal, Bernard has found that financial freedom means something different to each individual.
"It's not the dollar amount that really matters," he explains. "It's the effect. When are you at peace?"
"It's the freedom that having money, or it's the freedom that's associated with not having that sense of urgency for money allows you," he adds.