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Published: Feb 03, 2022 15 min read
Ben Voldman for Money

Last year, Aimy Steele discovered something she had never seen before in the world of personal finance advice: lessons that felt culturally relevant to her, and inclusive of her experiences.

Steele is no stranger to that world, and she’s extremely familiar with the financial gurus who have become the faces of paying down debt, budgeting and saving. She met Dave Ramsey after completing one of his programs and has avidly followed the teachings of David Bach and Suze Orman. But as a Black woman, Steele found that the advice from the traditional personal finance industry never felt truly relatable.

“We can't compare our stories and our oppressive experiences with that of our white counterparts, and then still say, ‘But I'm supposed to be doing the exact same thing they're doing,’” Steele says. “If I don't see someone who looks like me, then I don't explicitly link my fate to them.”

So Steele, 42, took matters into her own hands. She signed up for dfree, a faith-based personal finance program specifically designed for the Black community. Created in 2005 by DeForest B. Soaries, Jr. — a retired pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in New Jersey — dfree walks participants through training courses and connects them with financial professionals. For three months, Steele logged into the program weekly from her dining room table, listening to facilitators discuss homeownership and debt elimination in the face of oppression. She felt much less alone.

Ben Voldman for Money

And she isn’t alone. Many people of color have long felt left out of the traditional personal finance space. Experts say that much of the industry approaches advice as though all people are on equal footing. But systemic barriers have led the median wealth of white families to rise to about $184,000 while that number remains much lower for families of other or multiple races — at just around $23,000 for Black families and $38,000 for Hispanic families, the communities facing the biggest wealth gaps.

For years, dfree participants have been meeting up weekly in Black churches, sororities and community organizations across the country to learn about paying off debt, insurance and more, all while blending in conversations around racial inequality. Steele recently brought the program to her own church and became certified to facilitate the course. She says her dfree experience wasn’t only transformative because of the financial advice she took away, but also because the program acknowledged the discrimination Black Americans have faced for years.

“Hearing people talk about the fact that there is oppression validates what we have been feeling, thinking and knowing but could not articulate,” Steele says.

So do we throw all traditional personal finance advice out the window? Of course not. Countless people have changed their lives thanks to mainstream money tips. But making room for new faces, new products and new ideas in a world that has been so white-dominated for years is a necessary step — and it’s happening. There's a movement growing outside mainstream finance narratives that highlights control and empowerment, and it's being led by people of color, willing to reach an audience in whatever way they can. Getting there is the tricky part.

'Trauma can last generations'