WASHINGTON HEIGHTS -- Growing up in the south, Janifer P. Wilson didn't see anyone that looked like her in any books.
"I grew up as a child dreaming and trying to figure out, 'so am I invisible? Who am I? Where do I fit in all of this?'," Wilson said. "It's always been in my soul to house, present, and preserve the history of the African diaspora."
In January of 2000, Sister's Uptown Bookstore & Cultural Center was born. How she learned to do it wasn't easy.
"I would go around to local bookstores, and just sit at the feet of the owners to find out how they did it and I just asked them, how do you start a bookstore where the premise is, most of the books are written by African American authors?" Wilson said. "So, I got started on the shoulders of folk who already were in the book business."
Working full time as a surgical physician's assistant, she had to figure out how she was going to work full time, start a business and keep it afloat.
Her daughter Kori Wilson, now the operations manager, had just started high school when it opened.
"I know that this is her passion," Wilson said. "So, whether we were making hundreds of thousands of dollars or $2, she was here to make sure that the space was open and available to the community."
By 2007, they had opened a cultural center. Along with storytelling and music for children and senior citizens, they brought in local artists, musicians, authors, monthly book clubs, and poetry readings.
But it was a struggle for many years, until the pandemic.
"As a result, unfortunately, of COVID and what happened with Black Lives Matter, we were forced to realign ourselves with newness. What we did was to quickly start an online business that flourished, but it took us 20 years to break even," said Wilson.
They took calls from all over the world, with people thirsty for books on black history and culture.
"The entire world saw. We were getting calls from the UK, from Australia, from Europe. Do you ship books here?" Wilson said. "Can you ship any information on black discord and the parallel of past and present authors? It was an awakening that is universal. And so that is what I'm grateful for. That folk all over the world woke up."
The bookstore has become a beacon of light where there are healing, education, and enlightenment through literacy.
"We basically made it on folk who really love literacy, love books, they love the fact that this store has existed for as long as it has, and they make sure that they find a way to support us. So, it's been the loving support of the people who started with this 20 years ago that we continue to exist," said Wilson.
Don't miss more incredible stories in honor of Black History Month.
Sisters Uptown Bookstore specializes in African-American authors
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