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Ujamaa Community Bookstore creates place for people to learn about the Black experience in America

Posted at 12:42 AM, Aug 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-05 00:42:36-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Ujamaa Community Bookstore is doing more than selling books and promoting reading. It's bringing US history to life, working to educate those who stop in about the culture and traditions of the Black experience in America.

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"We just want to build the culture. We don't want people to shy away from it because sometimes even Black Americans can shy away from Black culture because we're a minority," Rohini Townsend, manager of Ujamaa Community Bookstore, said.

Townsend said they're one of the only Black owned, Black focused bookstores in the state of Indiana.

"In all honesty, I'm still trying to wrap my head around the gravity of that," Townsend explained. "It's outrageous. We're so severely underrepresented in every other way, so we definitely should have things that are just ours and we can explore and appreciate our culture."

Along with books, you'll find many items from Black creators, all of them representing Black culture in one way or another. Townsend said one of the most interesting parts of the bookstore is what you'll find on the back. She called it a living history wall that tells some of the most pivotal stories that have made up the Black experience in America.

"We're nothing without our ancestors and history. Sometimes, seeing it right in our face shows us what we need to honor, where we need to go because we can't forget this part," she said.

Many of the images on the wall are colorized which helps bring the story behind the picture to the present.

"We sometimes look at images like this and feel like it's distant history. My father had to deal with "White only" counters and bathrooms. We're not that far removed from it, that's why we need to know about it. It's so important to who we are now, regardless of how far we think things are in the past. History is actively repeating itself now," Townsend said.

Word has spread across Indiana about this new, Black-centric bookstore. Many are hoping to open one where they live.

"They're using this as a flagship. Our Evansville person came, we chatted about ideas, inspiration, what do you do. It's almost something like a culture that's spreading. This is a place where our voices can be completely and utterly amplified, edit free," she added.

Ujamaa Community Bookstore is located at the Flanner House near Edgemont Avenue and MLK on the city's west side.

There is a free book exchange for those who cannot afford to buy. The bookstore is open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.