NEWARK, NJ — Edwin Rosales, a graduate student and playwright at Yale School of Drama, woke up one morning in early June with a sense of urgency to do something to support Black liberation as people around the world mobilized in response to the death of George Floyd.
From there, Rosales called up their circle of friends and asked them if they would join in buying and reading one book a month from a Black-owned bookstore. The enthusiasm for the idea has burgeoned into a nationwide collective, more than 1,500 books sold and $25,000 in sales for Source of Knowledge, Newark’s only Black-owned bookstore.
Taking stock of the fact that the current wave of Black Lives Matter protests was being met with increased participation from non-Black people like himself, Rosales felt promoting anti-racist education by Black writers was an essential piece of the work they needed to perform. But rather than buy from big-name retailers, they took it a step further and formed the Turn the Page, which has fostered a partnership with Source of Knowledge that the owners are calling a “blessing.”
“I was observing that a lot of allies were buying from Amazon and reading white authors, and I said, ‘That’s a problem because if you’re going to be an ally and an advocate for the Black community, you need to be supporting Black authors and Black-owned businesses,’” Rosales said.
Rosales and Turn the Page’s other co-leaders visit Source of Knowledge twice a week to package and ship everything sold through their collective. They work with owners Dexter George, Masani Barnwell-George and Patrice McKinney every month to compile a list of essential reading to drive the Black Lives Matter movement.
More than 500 readers across 34 states have joined Turn the Page, and two schools have put in bulk orders, Rosales said. Rosales and Turn the Page's co-leaders are hard at work every day trying to keep up with the growth of the organization, and sub-movement, they sparked.
“We’re very tired, but we’re very, very happy,” Rosales said. “I think there are a lot of people out there, especially non-Black people of color and white people, who are wanting to make an impact in some way. That’s why we decided to get specific and be local, and we do hope to partner with as many Black-owned bookstores as possible.”
The support could not have come at a better time for Source of Knowledge, which is one of only two remaining Black-owned bookstores in New Jersey. Stay-at-home orders brought on by the coronavirus brought the store, which has been in Newark for 30 years, to the brink of permanent closure.
Rosales learned of Source of Knowledge through co-leader Tyler Cruz, who heard the owners’ plight on National Public Radio.
“Turn the Page is a marriage with Source of Knowledge. It’s more than that, it’s a blessing from the heart, the most wonderful thing that ever happened to us,” said George, Source of Knowledge co-owner. “Edwin is a real blessing to us and has really helped us tremendously, and words cannot explain how grateful we are to everyone that orders from us through Turn the Page. They’ve given us a second line of life.”
McKinney said that because of the funds brought in by Turn the Page, the bookstore is once again financially stable enough to put on its annual “Read and Feed,” where children of all ages are invited to come to pick out books and enjoy a meal for free. They are still working out the new logistics imposed by the coronavirus.
As the initiative grows in scope, it has also opened Source of Knowledge to new possibilities like author discussions via video conference.
Rosales said that the next steps for Turn the Page are building a website and pinning down which ideas from the organization’s co-leaders and advisers they want to focus on. They are undecided on whether to register as an official nonprofit because they want to keep the collective as grassroots as possible.
Rosales and co-leader Tyler Cruz emphasized that while developing Black-owned community partnerships is an essential piece of Turn the Page, they are equally focused on getting anti-racist education to readers and encouraging them to pay that knowledge forward.
“The most important thing for everybody is to educate themselves because a lot of the work and information is already out there. It’s not necessary to start from scratch,” Cruz said. “We see ourselves as the connection between the bookstore and the community, and a community of readers.”