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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Year in Review: Ujamaa Community Bookstore opened at Flanner House

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The Ujamaa Community Bookstore opened its doors at Flanner House as a space to spotlight not only books, but also Black businesses, art and culture in general.

The idea for the bookstore came from a question Flanner House CEO Brandon Cosby posed in an interview with the Recorder in July.

“What if you could have a bookstore that was focused on us, but then every other object that was in that store was made by Black hands?” he asked.

The bookstore, which is in the space of a former Indianapolis Public Library branch, features images of historical events and figures, including Harriet Tubman, Madam C.J. Walker and “Whipped Peter.” There is also a depiction of the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, who were lynched in Marion in 1930.

There are also regular programs at the bookstore, including instrument lessons, acting classes and roller-skating lessons.

“I want people to walk in and feel like this is their bookstore,” the store’s manager, Rohini Townsend, said. “I wanted the entire diaspora represented. That meant belief systems. That meant books. That meant art. It means everything.”

Ujamaa is a Swahili word that means brotherhood, extended family and cooperative economics. The bookstore opened on Juneteenth.

There are free books for children and teenagers to promote reading, and there’s a section that operates as a book exchange, where readers can take a book or leave a book. There are also free school supplies.

“Piece by piece we will continue to support the neighborhood and the community by not just making those things available but giving it to them in a way that honors and values the Blackness of who they are,” Cosby said. “Ujamaa is a love offering to the community.”

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853 or by email at tylerf@indyrecorder.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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