The building blocks to becoming a millionaire can now be found on the streets of Bed-Stuy, thanks to a new initiative from local entrepreneur Jude Bernard.

Bernard, the founder of financial wellness nonprofit The Brooklyn Bank, has teamed up with investment app Stash to place two new free mini-libraries of books about managing money and building wealth in Bedford Stuyvesant.

The libraries aim to bring financial wellness resources to the Black community in Bed-Stuy, Bernard said.

The ribbons were cut Wednesday on the libraries: One outside The Brooklyn Bank at 896 DeKalb Ave., the other outside Bed-Vyne Wine and Spirits at 385 Tompkins Ave.

Stash Communications Vice President Sarah Spagnolo and Brooklyn Bank CEO Jude Bernard cut the ribbon on a free library. Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader.
Stash Communications Vice President Sarah Spagnolo and Brooklyn Bank CEO Jude Bernard cut the ribbon on a free library. Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader.

“Unfortunately due to the lack of information and lack of availability of resources, the Black community has been at a disadvantage in the race; we’re starting the race a lot further behind,” he told BK Reader.

“The goal is to arm yourself with the information to make yourself a little more competitive.”

The free libraries have a range of books including “The Automatic Millionaire” by David Bach, “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill, “The Black Girl’s Guide to Financial Freedom” by Paris Woods and Tony Robbins’ “Money: Master the Game.”

The libraries are co-sponsored by the investment app Stash, which is also offering a $50 promotion to anyone who wants to get started investing on its platform.

The lending library. Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader.
The lending library. Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader.

Like a typical free library, you can simply take the books and bring them back when you’re done. Bernard hopes the information one learns through reading from the library will also spread through word-of-mouth.

“That’s the beauty of information: Once it is ingested, it’s then passed on to others. There is no real way to quantify the benefits, but you will see them gradually in the community.”

According to the Brooklyn Community Foundation, “Black and Latinx Brooklynites are twice as likely to live in poverty as white Brooklynites.”

While white families’ wealth increased nationally over the past three decades, Black families’ wealth dropped by 50%, according to BCF.

As well as providing free books, organizations like BCF, The Brooklyn Bank and Brooklyn’s Restoration Plaza are also working in tandem to improve the structural conditions for wealth-building in the borough — so those using Bernards’ libraries can have the best chance of being wealthy.

The Brooklyn Bank. Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader.
The Brooklyn Bank. Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader.

They support Black businesses and residents of color with programs as diverse as small business support, homeownership help, mental health resources, job creation, childcare, grants, education and access to housing.

Bernard, a New York real estate magnate, famously amassed a portfolio worth millions, all of which he lost in the 2008 financial crash, and then had to build back.

He opened the Brooklyn Bank on Martin Luther King Day 2018. The nonprofit is in a landmarked building that used to be a bank, and then a church. Its mission is to provide underserved people of color the tools and education to secure financial independence to close the wealth gap. 

In 2018, Bernard’s first event was an informational session on wealth building.

The free library outside Bed-Vyne Wine and Spirits. Photo: Supplied/ Sarah Spagnolo.
The free library outside Bed-Vyne Wine and Spirits. Photo: Supplied/ Sarah Spagnolo.

Over the years, The Brooklyn Bank has held dozens of events on building and maintaining wealth, geared to the Black community, including founding an annual Black Money Forum held this year on Juneteenth, and coincidentally also on Father’s Day.

Bernard said, this year, he met a man who lost his father and was spending his first Father’s Day without him.

“Instead of sitting home alone, he drove 200 miles [from Baltimore] to come to this Black Money Forum and, with the information he received, he lost the feeling of hopelessness that he had, and realized he had other opportunities.”

“We know for a fact we changed his life and his children’s lives.”

Outside the Brooklyn Bank. Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader.
Outside the Brooklyn Bank. Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader.

The Brooklyn Bank also runs networking events, tax clinics and giveaways like these free libraries.

Bernard said programs like the free libraries give members of the Bed-Stuy community a second chance, providing information to not only take advantage of opportunities, but identify them when they arise.

“It’s a terrible thing to miss out on opportunities, it’s an even worse thing to not even recognize an opportunity is being given to you.

“And that’s what programs like this library do: Arms you with the information to change your life and change the life of everyone behind you.”

Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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