Zariyah Thomas looks amongst the rows of books neatly stacked on tables inside New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. Her grandmother Lilian Henderson points out which ones she thinks the eight-year-old would like.
After browsing excitedly, Thomas picks up “I Love My Beautiful Hair” by Elissa Wentt, “I Love Being Me!” by Mechal Renee Roe and “Pool Day” by Melissa Boyd.
Natalie Pipkin, the founder of Black WorldSchooler Mobile Bookstore, walks over. She introduces herself before taking a picture of the duo.
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Pipkin’s bookstore provided more than 500 books to the church for a book fair held Saturday in the Martindale-Brightwood community. The bookstore has been online since 2020, and she launched their mobile bookstore on Juneteenth 2022.
Free book fair: highlighting Black authors
“We are a one-of-kind bookstore on wheels sharing stories that uplift Black life, Black heritage and Black joy. Our mission is to create access and awareness to Black stories as well as excitement and engagement around reading. So,we’re like a bookstore with ice cream truck energy,” said Pipkin.
She consciously curates the books she provides, which are all by Black authors.
“[We’re] sharing stories that are too often and intentionally left off the shelves: Stories that shape the way we think, see ourselves and see each other. When I go to schools, I don’t see them on the shelves, and they exist. I get my books from the same place any bookstore does,” said Pipkin.
Chairman of New Bethel’s Board of Trustees Eric Yancy, who is a published author, said the purpose of the free book fair is to keep kids reading over the summer.
“There’s about a 20-25% summer slide where what they learn in the school year tends to drift down over the summer. So, if we can keep them reading over the summer, at least those reading skills would stay up,” said Yancy.
Free book fair: collaborating with community
The church collaborated with Pipkin and The Oaks Academy, a private Christ-centered school serving pre-k through eighth grade, for the book fair.
“Natalie’s got the book mobile, which is a fantastic outreach, Oaks Academy is a great school and New Bethel is a historic church. It’s been here since 1875. We want to keep as much community involvement as we can because it’s all about outreach, and it’s really about the kids,” he said.
Brooke Reeves with The Oaks Academy said they have always had a strong partnership with New Bethel. Their middle school students attend chapel at the church.
Oaks Academy has three campuses, with one in the Martindale-Brightwood community.
The academy is housed in the historic John Hope School 26 building, which at one time served the largest population of African American public-school students in the city and is located directly across from the church.
“We’ve been able to form a relationship with the John Hope alumni, and that’s been a critical part of us being in this community and having this campus here. We’re thankful that we get to be a part of this community and they embraced and welcomed us,” said Reeves.
Paul Dickens is the owner of Paul’s Kitchen LLC. His food truck usually sells Vietnamese dishes with an American twist. However, for the event, he catered free hamburgers, chicken tenders, grilled cheese sandwiches and fries.
Free book fair: “it’s really about the kids”
“This event is a great thing. I like doing anything that involves kids. My kids are students of The Oaks Academy, so I’m glad to be a part of it,” said Dickens.
Knowing that Indiana’s literacy rates are around the national average, according to the Nation’s Report Card, Pipkins said this book fair is her doing her part to bridge the gap between Black children specifically and books.
“They shape our imagination. It’s not just about Black history; It’s about Black life, and Black life is vast. So, we have books that show Black children imagining they can fly and save the world. There are so many stories to share. Black books are diverse with different genres,” said Pipkin.
Yancy said the church will be hosting a backpack fair at the end of the summer before children go back to school.
The mobile bookstore travels within a 350-mile radius and can be booked for all types of occasions, such as birthdays, family events and school events.
Contact staff writer Jade Jackson at 317-607-5792 or by email JadeJ@IndyRecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @IAMJADEJACKSON