New hub for black books in a smoothie shop in downtown Lansing
Nyshell Lawrence read her first book by a black author in second grade, “Roots” by Alex Haley.
“There was something about it that fascinated me and I wanted to take it home,” she said. “I know that in second grade I couldn’t understand all the complex things that happened in the story, but the very idea of having this huge book written about black people was important to me.”
But growing up struggled to find books on black culture that didn’t focus on pain, slavery, or other trauma, she said.
On a 2017 date with their husband at a bookstore, the couple left empty-handed as they couldn’t find books that contained the natural inclusion of blacks. She said the selection of books by black women was particularly bleak.
“We spent the rest of the evening talking about how we could create something for Black women that would celebrate us,” said Lawrence. “That’s when the idea and the concept of the Socialight Society arose and arose.”
And so Lawrence began gathering friends and colleagues for a book club. She herself curated the reading list – all books by Black women – that the group met online to discuss.
As their club grew over the summer, Lawrence began shopping through Bookshop.org, an online retailer that supports independent booksellers. She sold books in pop-up shops in the Afterglow Market, Social Sloth Café, and Lansing Mall.
She is now opening a store in Soul Nutrition, a smoothie and tea store on 222 S. Washington Square in downtown Lansing.
It will have a grand opening on November 13th from 5pm to 7pm only for RSVP, then Monday to Friday from 9am to 7pm and Saturday from 10am to 7pm.
Lawrence curates the books she sells from her personal collections and makes recommendations to book club members.
“Socialight Society is really important to making sure women – especially black women – feel seen and celebrated,” said Lawrence.
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Lawrence’s store isn’t the only store-within-a-store or “micro-shop” new to downtown Lansing. Just down the street is A Novel Concept, another store for new and carefully used books in the Middle Village Micro Market, a pop-up from the nonprofit Downtown Lansing Inc.
The two micro-shops are “proof of the environment” in the city center, said DLI managing director Cathleen Edgerly. The store-in-a-store concept enables retail-oriented entrepreneurs to build a customer base while managing low overheads.
“People have been asking for a downtown bookstore, and as the city center continues to develop, this will meet those needs,” she said. “It gives them entertainment and a literary outlet.”
Kim Milton-Mackey directs Dreams and Visions Manifested, a nonprofit sponsor of the Socialight Society. She helped Lawrence book a spot at both the Afterglow Market and Soul Nutrition this year, and is working on raising $ 10,000 for a brick and mortar store. Lawrence also works with Lost Girl Vision and UR Blends Tea for the shop.
“We’ve done a lot of work on helping those of African American descent who don’t have the mirror image in their stories and in schools,” she said. “If you had to get a book, then you probably have to go to Amazon or somewhere else. Having a space in the community where you can read books and share them with others is encouraging. “
Milton-Mackey also said the store will meet the need for additional library-like space in the downtown area. She remembered her own library visits from a young age – she was excited after reading a title – and hopes that Lawrence’s bookstore today offers that experience to young people.
To this end, the Socialight Society is deliberately aimed at all age groups. Lawrence offers titles that range from children’s books to teenage novels and classics. The books rotate depending on the season and current events.
“Sometimes there may just be no knowledge that these (titles) exist,” she said. “We may not know that there is a black author who has written on this particular subject. This room makes that visible to everyone.”
Edgerly said Lawrence’s plan to store books from local people gives these authors a place to be recognized in their community, especially in the state capital, where workers often flood downtown for lunch.
“This is now a meeting place where individuals can have some similarities and a place where there is no tension or anger,” said Milton-Mackey. “It is a space that people can walk into, that reflects them.”
Contact reporter Krystal Nurse at (517) 267-1344 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @KrystalRNurse.