Call me nostalgic

As a child, reading opened my eyes to new worlds, fresh perspectives, but also to information I might never have learned if it had not been for my exposure to storytelling.

There is just nothing better than browsing through a bookstore, grazing the spines of every volume on the shelf, flipping through pages, and feeling the weight of a story in your hands. I found myself excited to take an adventure anywhere in the world.

I’ve never owned a Kindle, or a Nook, and I have no intentions of purchasing one, that’s just me. When I crack open a hardcover or bend the corner of a new book and turn the pages between my fingers, it inspires me on an extremely emotional level. Please hear me out, because of course there is nothing wrong with e-readers if that is the route you prefer, but I know I am not alone in the comfort of sitting in my favorite chair, in my favorite little corner, and snuggling up to a good book. Call me nostalgic, but there is nothing like swapping hard copy for ink on a screen.

At the end of the day, whether you’re #TeamPaperback or pro e-reader, it’s important to surround yourself with stories. I encourage you to pick up a novel, browse the shelves at a local bookstore just for fun. The simple act of being surrounded by literature can be inspiring.

Bookstores are community gathering places, hubs for conversation between like-minded souls, lecture halls hosting inspiring and thought-provoking speeches, and vital gymnasiums for communities to discuss the important issues of the day.  

When I think of Independent bookstores, I think of Willa Robinson who first opened her bookstore to channel her hobby of book collecting, but more than 14 years later, her bookstore is the only Black-owned brick-and-mortar bookstore in Kansas City. You can visit Willa’s Books and Vinyl inside the office building at 1734 E. 63rd St. The store is open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m., but not for long, at this location.

She is one of dozens of businesses housed inside a multi-story office building at 1734 E. 63rd Street in Kansas City’s Citadel neighborhood that are now faced with moving in the coming weeks. Ms. Robinson is committed to keeping her brick-and-mortar establishment in the neighborhood. Willa recently launched a

Ms. Robinson believes that it is important that you have a Black bookstore in the community. She desires to see homes with black books. She said while her store is a resource for White and Black people, she hopes to draw more young Black kids. It is that commitment and passion for the community that encourages her to keep the doors open even when the store is not making a profit. When the sales are down, she reaches into her own pocket to keep it going.

Willa’s books are focused on featuring Black literature and history. It is the only one of its kind in Kansas City area that specializes in rare African American books. She has books of all kinds, but 95% of her books are black literacy about black people and the African diaspora. Her store, inspired in part by her larger personal collection that carries several thousand books.

Willa’s passion for books started long before the store at 1734 E. 63rd Street. She developed a love for books and reading at a very early age. Her interest started in Christianity and books by Black authors, but in the wake of the death of George Floyd, she is now also putting an emphasis on race and politics.

In 1989, she sold her books in the Federal Building downtown, where she worked for the United States Post Office. 1994, she started selling her books on 18th & Vine, Kansas City’s historic jazz district, as a street vendor. In 2007, she opened Willa’s books at 5537 Troost Avenue.

I grew up in a home with books. But it was not until I met Willa Robinson that I came face -to-face with someone who loves books as much as breathing.

When I walked into her home, it was just like any other home, family members spread throughout, accompanied by kitchen conversation, and then she took me downstairs. There wasn’t a single table or shelf that wasn’t’ adorned with a book.

I have never asked Mrs. Robinson if she dreamed of having her own library, but one thing I know is while many women would prefer a big walk-in closet in their bedroom. Ms. Willa Robinson would prefer a walk-in library.

Willa’s Books and Vinyl is packed with hundreds of books, magazines, and records from wall-to-wall and ceiling to floor. Readers can find everything from 30-year-old Ebony Magazines to A Promised Land, a memoir by former president Barack Obama.

A year ago this week, there was a surge of support and attention to Black-owned bookstores. Due to the push to “buy black” and read books written by Black authors.

Independent Bookstores provide life and blood to communities because the good ones offer a place for people to gather, read, write, sit, and think and offer a place where the creative process is. There are some things that we have take for granted. Hopefully, Independent Bookstores are not one of them.

Although there have always been stories and the experiences, people were not comfortable talking about them. Now, there is more in the spotlight, it is creating more conversations, and people are open to having conversations, and they are holding them in their hands and educating themselves on topics they just did not think about, or thought about, but were afraid to share.

Black bookstores are nothing new. There have been independent bookstores owned by African Americans for decades. The oldest in the country is Oakland, California’s Marcus Books, which opened its doors in 1960 and is still in business today. There are now 124 other Black-owned establishments in the country, and though they make up just 6% of indie bookselling companies in the United States, they are home to powerful works that serve to educate and amplify vita voices.

Willa Robinson is serious about people knowing their history. She feels strongly, that if young Black men knew their story and who they are and where they come from, they would not be killing each other. For too long, the narrative was we were less than, but she firmly declares you must know who you are. “We are a smart-genius type of people, or else we would not have survived, and they need to know that.” Says Willa.

Tony Morrison says it this way, “if there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

I say, “if there is a book that you want to buy and you cannot find it, then find Willa Robinson. She either has it or knows where to find it.  

Follow the link to connect with Willa Robinson.

So, let us keep her bookstore alive we all need to support her. Let’s go!

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