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Ujamaa Community Bookstore opens with focus on African American literature, merchandise

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A new Indianapolis bookstore is bridging culture and literacy.

The Flanner House opened Ujamaa Community Bookstore a month ago, building on a century-old commitment to community.

While in many places African American culture is confined to one section, bookstore representatives say at Ujamaa it’s more than a section — it’s the entire thing. And it’s important for people to see themselves in the books they read and products they buy.

There’s still something special about holding a physical book in your hands. Ujamaa Community Bookstore is one of the places in town where you can still have the experience.

“Something of value in the tangible process of hunting for a book,” said Flanner House executive director Brandon Cosby.

Rohini Townsend manages the shop. She said culture and literacy is a passion and it’s hard to put into words what it means to be surrounded by it all in one place.

“It’s been validating to hear people say it’s like bringing a ray of sunshine to the neighborhood,” said Townsend.

The roots at the Flanner House run deep, too. It opened nearly 125 years ago to provide resources to families just a generation removed from slavery. And while Ujamaa is a bookstore, it’s also a place for local craft makers and authors to sell their work.

“It’s really impactful and it’s like a privilege to do,” said Townsend.

For 40 years, a branch of the public library filled this space, but it pulled out in 2019. Cosby said it left a void for people seeking access to books, internet and programming.

“We really sat down and started thinking about, ‘How do we replace with the neighborhood loss and do it in a way that would actually benefit the neighborhood?’” he said.

There are multiple community programs, as well as new ones in the works. Eunice Trotter teaches a genealogy class for the store. Despite misconceptions, there are quite a few records on African American families.

“Because African Americans were considered property, there are records. They are particularly for people who are from the south,” she said.

She adds that this space functions as an all-around cultural meeting place. not just for Black people, but for others who want to learn.