Kinship Care is Community Care: A Discussion on the Power of Community Involvement During Black Owned Business Month with Jeannine Cook
Kinship care thrives when we recognize the critical component of community. While the availability of community services, like health care, mental health resources and availability of nutritious food remain critical for the kinship triad (the child, birth parent and caregiver), so is the presence of businesses that mirror the cultural and racial diversity of a community.
We know that an asset of kinship care is cultural continuity, thus a continuum of kinship care considers the presence of businesses that support the triad from a lens of cultural and racial equity. Families don’t live in isolation. Their lives must be inclusive of the businesses that maintain, enhance, and add to the identity and culture of a neighbor. A community care approach to kinship care must include an integration of services, resources, and businesses.
This month we highlight a business near our Philadelphia location, Our Sisters Bookshops. Jeannine Cook is a writer, educator, business owner, and strategist that is creating opportunities for the community to uplift, support, and inspire our young generation. Owner of Harriet’s bookshop located in Philadelphia and Ida B. Wells bookshop located in New Jersey has given local youth of Philly the opportunity to become what she calls youth conductors. Aspiring authors, artists, and activists, ages 15-25 interested in a paid internship at Harriet’s bookshop can sign up now!
ASCI: With kinship care being community-based what is the importance of black-owned business creating opportunities like Harriet’s did by integrating a paid internship for youth?
JC: We’ve created a pipeline where I’m hoping to train some up-and-coming entrepreneurs and whether they decide to be entrepreneurs or not. I think that entrepreneurial skills are still going to come in handy. No matter what career field the young people decide to go into. We’re always inviting young people to apply. To come be a part of what it is that we’re doing.
We call them the youth conductors. They give tours of the bookshop. The bookshop is kind of a bookshop, kind of a monument, kind of an art gallery. They lead people through the space so they can better navigate how it really works. We have youth conductors who are helping to place orders. We have youth conductors who are going out and delivering books within the community. They’re hosting classes and workshops.
They’re doing a range of things. They’re not just working behind the register. They’re doing many things within the community to make sure that the bookshop can keep running. Some of them are working in the bookshop for credit, class credit, or volunteer credit. There’s a range of opportunities that we’re always looking for because as new young people come in, we also always have young people who are graduating.
ASCI: What led you to add the opportunity of a paid internship for youth ages 15-25? How will this gesture aid the community?
JC: I think it invites people to understand the power of being independent and autonomous in the community. We’ve built an independent bookshop where we can stand for the values that we hold. When you see that, I think it gives young people a chance to see that that’s possible. We should be out there. We get to be out there building our own institutions. We get to change the face of what business is. We get to be more caring about our community. Compassionate and connected within our community. That it’s not always about the bottom line.
I think that getting young folks reading and writing is impeccably important. I think that we take it for granted. I was reading a study the other day. Young people at 15 years old in Europe are reading 35% more than young people that are 15 years old in the USA, right? That is going to have an effect on our country in the long term If our young people aren’t educated and they’re not self-educated. They’re not always being told what to do but they’re able to go and gather information on their own.
I think there’s a myriad of ways in which I think we’re affecting the lives of young people. I offer them the space, and I invite them to host their own events. I invite them to bring other young people into the space. I don’t think that there’s any way that adults are going to be able to solve the violence issue among youth in our city, right? We know that in Philadelphia, the majority of violence that’s happening is happening between the ages of 16 and 24. Those are the people who have to make a decision about the kind of city they want to live in and those are the peers who have to decide. This is what we’re going to do about these issues that can’t come from the top. So I’m looking forward to what the young folks will do. As I see them growing up and going off into the world.
ASCI: What inspired you to open a book shop named after Harriet Tubman in Philadelphia?
Jeannine Cook: I believe that Harriet inspired me to open the book shop for a number of reasons. One, because when I think about powerful women, she’s one of the first that comes to my mind. I was living in Philadelphia, the city where I knew she came. Her first stop of freedom. When she first decided to leave Maryland, this is what she called The Promise Land, It was the land of opportunity. I thought, wow, I’ve never seen a monument built to this remarkable human being, who not only cared about her own freedom [but also the freedom of others]. I think it’s really important for folks to remember, right? That is why I hope that building a bookshop in her name and her homage invites people to think about ways, in which we can be more like Harriet.
She wasn’t just concerned about her own freedom. I think sometimes being in a country where individualism is highly promoted that we forget that. Harriet was also concerned about the other people in her life. She was also concerned about making sure that other people had the experience of freedom, to the point where she risked her own freedom so that other people can have that experience.
In the very beginning, I thought that Harriett’s Bookshop would be really a place of peace for me. It was a place of healing for me. I hope that a few people would have that experience alongside me. I never imagined that Harriett’s would be what it became. I never imagined that. Hundreds and hundreds of people would know about Harriett’s. We’d have 100,000 social media followers. We’d be recognized by Oprah, on The Today Show that is on NBC. We’d be in Vogue magazine. We’d be spotlighted by Google and Instagram. None of those things were ever, even in my imagination, I literally just thought we were opening a little shop where I would write a book or two and I would have the community come together every once in a while.
ASCI: During the process of opening your bookstore what challenges did you face aside from COVID-19, that you have overcome and or had to pivot your goal?
JC: The community came through and said we’re going to keep you here. We’re going to figure out ways to make sure you’re solid. There are other challenges we face. Our bookshop is in a community, in a neighborhood that is historically known for its racism. It’s known for its insidious acts. Especially inflicted upon people. I had a customer, who said, it wasn’t that we didn’t like black people. It wasn’t that we were racist. It was just that we didn’t like anybody who didn’t look like us. Well, you know what that’s called, right? Yes. That’s what it is. You don’t like somebody, simply because they don’t look like you. That’s what that is. So being in that community was a challenge itself, right? I had people who came in and told me that I didn’t belong there. I was told that I was a “gentrifier”. I was trying to change the neighborhood. Yes, ironically.
Then when George Floyd and Brianna Taylor and the racial uprisings happened, I had many people tell me that it would not be safe for me to be there. We had folks marching in front of our bookshop with bats talking about they were protecting the police. They are using all types of racial slurs. That was definitely a challenge within itself. Again the community was our ally and all of that. We had people who would come and just stand in front of our bookshop. Make sure that it was protected. We had fraternities and sororities who came and stood out there. We had the Nation of Islam who came and stood out there. We had a group of elderly women who came and stood out there knowing their power as elders. We had people who had just come and bought water. There was just a myriad of people who decided that they were going to stand for what Harriet stands for. We also got this crazy hate mail saying that they were going to do heinous things to me and my employees.
That is just a few of the challenges. That doesn’t even go into all of the financial challenges that come up when you’re trying to have a business during all of these upheavals. This is your first brick and mortar. So there are a number of things you don’t know or don’t understand. When the rules are constantly in flux about whether you can open or not. There were lots of challenges.
ASCI: What advice do you have for a young entrepreneur that would like to open a storefront?
JC: In terms of the advice, I think it goes back to the answer to the last question, which is, to think about what I want for my sister and what I want for myself and think about who is in your immediate network. Who is in your sisterhood that will be able to support you but also who you look forward to supporting?
I think going into it with that mentality that is not just me, me, I, I, my, my, which I think a lot of times in the United States we get fed that lie, right? In my community and my culture, we realize that it’s about “I am because you are” and “You are because I am.” My decisions affect you and your decisions affect me. We want to live a life where we’re doing things that uplift the entire collective, as much as the individual.
- Businesses know the pulse of the community: With the help of local supporters businesses have the opportunity to build their brand awareness, gathering the trust of the community while simultaneously building a positive reputation.
- Businesses can provide opportunities for youth: Small businesses are known for giving opportunities to individuals that may be overlooked by large companies. Youth have the ability to bring fresh ideas to businesses to help aid to the community. Businesses are providing youth with the necessary experience they need for their future.
- Businesses strengthen communities and communities can strengthen families: Businesses are strengthening the community by providing job opportunities, build community identity, and lastly they pay taxes that helps the community with schooling, transit, health care, etc. community can strengthen homes and families by being a advocate, creating supports via shelter, church, food drives, etc. Something to consider is that family is kin and kinship care is community. Family is maternal and paternal relatives, fictive kin, and informal helpers.