INDIANAPOLIS — An independent bookstore on wheels will soon be driving around the Circle City.
Black Worldschoolers Bookstore first opened as a virtual bookshop in December 2020. It was founded by Natalie Pipkin, born and raised in Indianapolis, and her two sons, ages 9 and 12.
Black Worldschoolers provide reading materials for all ages, but mostly for children. The Pipkin family is dedicated to selling children's books written by diverse authors for kids from all communities.
"So not only are the children seeing themselves and other children represented, but they're able to step into a new world and see other things," Pipkin explained as the mission she wants the Black Worldschooler Mobile Bookstore to serve for the community.
"Bookstores are a labor of love."
Thanks to a grant from the JLH Fund — a program founded by Hoosier native and two-time Olympic gold medalist Lauren Holiday and her husband Jrue, an NBA All-Star — Pipkin's vision to put a bookstore on wheels and provide Indy's children with all kinds of books is coming true.
"Oh my gosh, I'm still surprised. I'm so speechless!" Pipkin said of receiving the award.
Pipkin loves stories. She loves to read them, she loves to tell them, and most importantly, she loves to share stories.
"I just think it (stories) could change everything for children," Pipkin said. "The narrative that Black children don't like to read was spoken so long ago, and it still exists today. And that's not true. You center the negativity about Black children everywhere but have you ever tried to center their stories? And what could that do?
"I want to go to every neighborhood. We need a whole world that they (children) can have access to on a regular basis and make it so it's like ... a bookstore on wheels with ice cream truck energy!"
"We're inside the classrooms and outside the curriculum."
From homeschooling support to a virtual bookstore
Black Worldschoolers started as a blog in 2018 for other parents who were homeschooling their kids, or who needed help teaching their children Black history.
"We're inside the classrooms and outside the curriculum," Pipkin said of her experience learning about American and World history in school as a Black woman.
Pipkin had not seen herself as a parent who would be homeschooling her children until she was faced with a question from one of her sons that she realized she too had asked her mother decades ago: why aren't schools teaching Black history?
Pipkin recalled when her 5-year-old son turned to her one day after school and asked why she kept sending him and his brother back to school if they weren't being taught what Pipkin believed they should be instructed on. She had no problem saying he was right.
"And I never really thought of that, because I always thought we'll talk through it, we'll work through it, we can come home and we can tell this story the way it should have been told, or we can fill in the blanks where ... you didn't even exist in the world's history, which wasn't true," she said.
The process of just taking what schools choose to teach and accepting it, only to have to relearn it in a Black person's point-of-view at home, ended in Pipkin's family with her children.
"So, instead of doing that work that, again, my mom had done, and my grandma had done, we made a decision together — my husband, my children — we all were just like, we're gonna do this thing," Pipkin said of deciding to homeschool her kids.
"Us leaving (the traditional school system) was definitely not me pulling them out, and it wasn't a panic or a fear. It was like, 'oh, this is time to do this.'"
Black Worldschoolers, over time, evolved into a resource site for parents. It had YouTube embeds of Ted Talks, provided ways for homeschooling families worldwide to connect, and diverse children's books.
"Black Worlschoolers was just a free resource site. All the things we used in homeschooling we just put them on the site, that were culturally relevant," Pipkin said. "They weren't things we created; they were things we use that are out there. We just put them in one area."
In late 2020, Pipkin and her sons were trying to encourage their homeschooling community, mostly families of color, to build their own personal libraries when they decided to start selling books. To essentially be a one-stop-shop.
They were encouraging local students to find books that positively shaped their worldview through donations. In addition, the Pipkin family wanted to show as many Indianapolis neighborhoods as possible that there were children's books not just centered around White characters.
"So, we donated these books, and we saw the excitement of teenagers about books they had never seen before. They were so excited!" Natalie said. "I didn't expect that ... and I was like, 'Oh my gosh, they don't even know there is a world of books out there.'"
The day she saw the excitement of teens realizing there are several different genres of books for the first time was the day Pipkin decided she wanted a bookstore. She wanted to share stories, have conversations, and help kids find the books that interest them while also reflecting on who they are.
"I've already witnessed firsthand the impact of stories with our children. Ever since, we were intentional about curating a home library that reflected who they are, individually, their heritage, their interests, all those things. It skyrocketed," Pipkin explained.
Pipkin says she watched her sons — ages 9 and 12 — go from disliking reading and only doing it out of obligation to hiding under the covers at 1 a.m. with a flashlight to read a book.
"My oldest, he read 40 chapter books from his 11th (birthday) to his 12th ... They're all books that reflect him, but the genres are all over the place. He loves sci-fi, and he loves history, and he loves just the simple stories of everyday life," she said. "I want that for all children. And I believe it can happen because I saw it happen."
Why a bookstore on wheels
Pipkin says, "Bookstores are a labor of love."
She wants that love to move freely. She wants the love a bookstore provides to go where it's needed, not to be sedentary.
"I really want communities to connect to these stories. To enjoy the book-buying process. To see it as something that is needed," Pipkin said. "It's just different. Being in bookstores, you get to sit down and flip through a book and then say, 'it's mine; I chose it, and I want it.' It's a different experience."
The move to go mobile is about meeting kids where they're at and not expecting them to seek out a brick-and-mortar, Pipkin says.
In a soon-to-be decked-out bus, Black Worldschoolers Mobile Bookstore plans to be at farmers markets, school fairs, parks, partnering with other businesses, visiting neighboring towns and cities, and more.
Black Worlschoolers wants to show you that there are published books with Black kids saving the world, Black children gardening and more, Pipkin says.
The Pipkin family thought it would take years to have their virtual store transition to a mobile shop as they waited for the profits to build. But being a JLH Fund grantee expedited that process faster than they could've anticipated.
"To have Jrue Holiday and Lauren Holiday saying, not only do we see your vision, but we're moved by it, we want to support it any way we can ... It's amazing. Like, that's amazing. Because we want that, even though we believe in ourselves, when somebody else says, 'yes;' Yes to you, as well, it changes to a whole 'nother boost," Pipkin said.
The recently-purchased bus for the Black Worldschoolers' bookstore on wheels is soon to undergo some serious renovations.
With the JLH grant money — the amount was undisclosed — Pipkins says they will be able to have new flooring put in, a new driver seat and benches installed, and some repairs worked on.
They plan to have the reconstruction work finished by spring 2022.
"We definitely have much more to do," Pipkin says and plans to keep everyone updated on their website and Instagram.
Making the time to read as an adult
As the daughter of a librarian, Pipkin's love for reading started at a young age.
The most impactful time in her reading journey was during her teenage years. She was able to share these stories with her group of friends in a pre-digital world, learn about things she was interested in, travel to cities she had only heard of, and learn what life was like for other Black girls around the country — all through books.
"Of course, the books that are available today were not available when I was younger ... But about middle school, there was like this surge, you know ... everybody was reading. Like, all of our friends were reading the same book. And it was a good thing," Pipkin remembered. "It didn't reflect like how we were living. But the girls [in the books] reflected us as far as our heritage, our culture. But where they were living and what they were going through were so different. We were able to step into somebody else's world."
When she became an adult, Pipkin said it just felt like she didn't have time to read. She said she always found she had some other obligation that would trump reading, but when she started home education for her sons, she saw the importance of making that time to read.
"My children have really brought that love back and have shown me that I do have time and that we can make time, and you can read anywhere and everywhere. And so they got me in the habit of keeping books in my purse," Pipkin said, chuckling. "I think we just tell ourselves we don't have time or, again, we don't even know what to read sometimes. And so they've really brought that love back for me."
Black Worldschoolers Mobile Bookstore plans to open Spring 2022
WRTV Digital Reporter Shakkira Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on Twitter, @shakkirasays.