ah-harrison_web.jpgLocated in a non-descript Broward Boulevard shopping plaza, sandwiched between a beauty supply store and natural juicer – unless it is your destination – it’s easy to miss the African Bookstore. Step inside the oasis of all things black, however, and every sense is awakened to its existence.

The subtle smell of aromatic incense fuses with a soothing, almost meditative African melody, creating a holistic multi-sensory backdrop during an impromptu mini-history lesson provided by Kojo, the store’s 75-year-old owner.

With an encyclopedic knowledge of African history, Kojo offers customers something they are not likely to find at Borders or Barnes & Noble: a passionate awareness of information that dispels the myths surrounding Africans’ contribution to the world, and that nullifies stereotypes depicted so subtly, yet consistently, that black people themselves help to convey them. 

Sadly, this priceless gem is in jeopardy of closing due to lack of patronage.

In business since 1994, Kojo, (that’s his adopted African name; his “slave name,” he said with a chuckle, is Anthony Harrison) said the bookstore, located at 3600 West Broward Boulevard, can only survive another month with the current income he generates.

He would not give an exact figure, stating simply “very little,” when asked about the store’s revenue.

Kojo has been able to keep the store’s head above water by renting out the spacious back room to other businesses, but even that offers only temporary solace as the businesses are not always able to pay. Currently, dance classes for children and adults are offered by the Holistic Arts Centre there.

When asked about the status of the store, he said, “The bookstore is not doing [well.]”

He pays the roughly $1,500 monthly expenses out of his own pocket, a practice he said he won’t be able to continue much longer.

“I put money into it but I can only put so much. Prior to [the dance program], I had a framer. When they were here and when they pay, I do very well. But if they don’t come up with their part of the rent, then it’s an extra strain on me,” he explained.

The Broward County establishment is not the only black bookstore facing economic trouble. Miami’s Afro-In Books and Cafe, rumored to have closed, is still open but, according to owner Larry Capp, has shortened its hours of operation in an effort to reduce expenses.

Capp, who co-owns the store at 5575 NW 7th Ave. with daughter, Jamila, said the Liberty City landmark, which employs one full-time and one part-time employee, will resume regular operating hours for the holiday season.

Capp, who is also the executive director of Miami-Dade County’s Office of Community Advocacy, said he is considering a different location within the Liberty City community to further reduce the 30-year old store’s operating expenses.

Black book stores across the nation face a similar plight. Washington, D. C. saw the closure of 15-year old Karibu Books earlier this year, which at its height had six stores and 45 employees in Maryland and Virginia.

Los Angeles’ EsoWan bookstore also faced shutting its doors, but was saved by alerting the community to its threatened demise. Local media, churches, university professors and the city donated money and showed up to shop, providing an outpouring of financial support to help the 20-year old store remain open.

Back in Broward, Kojo said his desire to rebuff whites’ demeaning queries about black people led to his love affair with books.

“I lived in Europe for 14 years, and I got sick and tired of hearing Europeans, white folks, saying things like, ‘What have you people ever contributed to civilization?’ I got sick and tired of it and I did not have a response for it. Until one day I decided to do some research.”

That research taught him, for example, that the Cesarean Section was not only created by Africans, but that their mastery of the surgical procedure was so precise that the child and the mother always survived. Kojo said, conversely, that the practice was used in Europe to save the life of the child, and that, initially, the mother invariably died.

Kojo’s passion for knowledge is apparent; his desire to share it unbridled.

“Here is a place that black people can come for information about themselves and about their history, not propaganda, genuine historical facts. I get satisfaction knowing that I can provide information to black folks.”

Rmharris15@Bellsouth.net

Photo by Khary Bruyning. Kojo, above, owner of the African Bookstore, has written a letter urging shoppers to patronize his business.



IF YOU GO

• The African Bookstore is located at  3600 West Broward Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Books and other cultural merchandise may also be purchased from the store’s website, www.africanbookstore.net. To contact the store, call 954-652-0474.

• Afro-In Books and Café is located at 5575 NW 7th Ave. in Miami’s Liberty City. To contact the store, call 305-754-5757.