NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — As we celebrate Black History Month, we want to recognize a business in New Jersey that’s shining a spotlight on African-American stories.
Masani Barnwell and Patrice McKenney shared a hug as they reflected on everything they’ve accomplished together.
Thirty-five years ago, the two women opened the “Source of Knowledge” bookstore on Broad Street in Newark near City Hall to bring black authors, black stories and readers of all backgrounds together.
But to many, it’s much more than just a store.
“It’s a place where we want to be able to welcome everyone, especially our people, but everyone in this community to let them know that it’s always, it’s a safe haven,” Barnwell said.
“We opened this store because our history needed to be told through our eyes,” McKinney said.
The store offers book clubs, signings, readings and more, but most importantly, young readers say Source of Knowledge offers perspective.
“I’ve never seen a bookstore like this before with our faces on it,” Central High School student Isa Perkins said.
“I love the books. I love the art. I love seeing people that look like me, and I love to read,” University High School student Akela Haynes said
Both Barnwell and McKinney say people are so much more excited to read when they can relate to the stories being told — stories of Thurgood Marshall, the Supreme Court’s first African-American Justice, or lighter ones, like “President Of The Whole Sixth Grade,” a story of a young black student navigating the ins and outs of middle school.
The women believe it’s crucial young people in particular have the opportunity to see where they came from and see how far they can go.
“That’s what we want them to get. To feel empowered, to feel proud, to feel like they too can do more than what society sometimes says they’re suited for,” Barnwell said.
The women are also pushing to diversify school curriculum by sharing books with districts across the state.
“To have our students see themselves … is so important,” said Roger Leon, superintendent of Newark Schools.
At Source of Knowledge, there are no limits to what readers can accomplish. They can be authors, illustrators, artists — even successful business owners.
The bookstore carries a selection of fiction, non-fiction and children’s books along with African art, drums and sculptures. Right above the store, there’s a community center and gym.