Herman Dolce Jr. Says Debt is Ignorance to Financial Liberation

Herman Dolce Jr. isn’t a social worker anymore, but he’s still committed to making a difference in the community, only from a different angle. These days, he helps people gain financial freedom by teaching them how to leverage untapped opportunities to build wealth without having a lot of money of their own to work with.

Through his Bella Sloan Enterprises, he has helped pump $75 million into majority Black and brown communities over the past few years by educating people on credit and business credit. Among those who have benefited from Dolce’s program is a man who discovered it while in prison. Implementing what he learned, he was released with a solid 700 credit rating and, while still in a halfway house, was able to buy a new vehicle and get his teeth fixed.

“The dumber you are, the more money [they] make.”

Herman Dolce Jr.

 “The main thing is access to the resources and to the knowledge,” Dolce says, lamenting what he sees as a widespread lack of financial literacy. “We are not given it in our families. We are not taught in schools”—because it’s not in financial institutions’ interest to do so, he adds. “The dumber you are, the more money [they] make. Literally, your ignorance makes [them] money. You’re not understanding how to balance a checkbook, [they] can hit you with a $40 overdraft fee.”

Dolce’s own financial awakening was a process. He learned about working hard for money before he discovered how to make money work hard for him. Haitian immigrants, his parents both juggled two and three jobs to make it possible for the family of five to move out of a one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment into a home in Philadelphia.

With an eighth-grade education, his father “wasn’t the most financially literate person in the world,” but he set a great example. Every week, he had Dolce help write checks from his janitor’s pay. “He’s like, ‘All right, the gas bill is $53, the water bill is $100,’” Dolce remembers. “‘Next Saturday, we have to pay the rent’ . . . I was balancing a checkbook [and] didn’t even know it.”

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Earning a degree in public relations from Temple University and a master’s in human services from Lincoln University, Dolce got a job as executive director of a nonprofit. But his salary was much less than his debt. “So, I quickly realized the ROI [return on investment] on my education was not ROIing.” Determined to gain financial freedom, he started by dabbling in real estate but shifted to credit, discovering how to use it to his advantage.

He shares the example of a fellow student who, at 18, took his financial aid refund check and put it into the account of an LLC he formed. Then he used that to secure a mortgage on a property, where a tenant covered the repayment while he lived there for free. “He was a millionaire by the time he was 21.” That kind of success doesn’t come without some sacrifice, though: “He wasn’t at the parties, maybe 10% of them, because that money was doing something else, and he was living for free.”

You will have to make some kind of investment if you want to see a good return, Dolce adds. “I tell people all the time, ‘You’re going to pay.’ You’re going to pay with your time, by you studying, going on to reading books, or you’re going to pay somebody to do it for you. But either way, it’s going to cost you something.”

Breaking the chains

Sharing what he learned about taking control of his financial destiny at first for no fee, he later founded Bella Sloan—named after his first daughter—to pass on his wisdom to others. The move was inspired by his brother, who told him, “They’re going to pay somebody; they might as well pay you.”

Through his Blueprint Foundation, Dolce wants to offer financial literacy courses in schools and colleges because he believes it’s essential to get a handle on money at an early age. “There’s just so many untouched Black and brown people that have not heard this information that it is truly important to disseminate it to as many people as possible,” he says.

Bella and her sister, Olivia, are “light years” ahead of many other 6- and 4-year-olds, Dolce says. “They have LLCs in their names already. They have business bank accounts. They have personal checking accounts. When they’re 16, I’m going to put them on my credit cards, so they’re going to have 700 credit when they’re 18.”

Dolce is looking further than just his daughters, though. “My vanity dream is that a generation or two from now, there will be a picture of my face above the fireplace of one of our estates, and my great-grandchild, Herman Dolce IV, will be like, ‘Who’s that? Who planted seeds 75 to 100 years ago that we have access to this?’”

“Once we are financially literate, we are in control.”

Herman Dolce Jr.

Dolce, whose social media handle is Haitian CEO, believes his work is helping “break the chains of oppression,” seeing long-time deliberate suppression of Black wealth. “The older I get, I am more Malcolm X than Martin Luther King,” he says. “They both wanted freedom for our people, but Malcolm X, from the beginning, was about the economic empowerment of our people… Our oppressors knew that was the freedom… There was a reason why they didn’t want you to read. Once we are financially literate, we are in control.”

Many women are “light years ahead” in beginning to take financial control of their lives, Dolce observes. That’s in part because of “the systematic oppression of our people,” he believes. “We have a generation of men that were locked up, and now we have a generation of men that didn’t have fathers, right? What else happens with that is that you have created women who had to tap into their masculine power… they had to become mother and father, and one of the things they had to do was figure out getting financed.”

Dolce sees a link between financial illiteracy and crime. He quotes the Notorious B.I.G. song, Juicy, in which the rapper explains his hustling: “I was just trying to make some money to feed my daughter.” “I need to put a roof over my head, and I need to eat, and I didn’t have any options because you took the vocational schools out of my neighborhood, so I can’t work with my hands,” Dolce says. “I don’t know how to be a plumber. I don’t know how to be an electrician. Those things, they were taken away from us. Then you put drugs in… it’s pipeline to… prison.”

But through Bella Sloan and his other projects, Dolce is helping to disrupt that. “We’re giving options,” he says. Take learning how to trade stocks, in addition to using credit. “I can show you how to trade stocks, and you can make $3,000-$10,000 a day for the rest of your life,” he says. “The options are, I’ll never have to deal with drugs. I’ll never have to do anything illegal.” 

HERMAN DOLCE JR.: MY WAYMAKER

My father (Herman Dolce Sr.) and I used to butt heads in my teenage years because that’s what you’re supposed to do, but now that I’m older, I’m like, “God, he was right about everything.” He was a man’s man: he provided, he protected, he taught me how to tie my tie, how to respect women. He’s been married to my mother for 40 years; I saw a good marriage, so I kind of figured out how to do it [from his example].