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OKLAHOMA CITY — The Nappy Roots Bookstore at N.E. 36th and Kelly is the only bookstore on the eastside. It’s independent, black-owned, and had an eviction notice on their door only days before Black History Month begins.

Juneteenth and Black History Month are the store’s special calendar dates each year, so the thought of being kicked out of their spot in the corner of the shopping center was especially painful to founders Camille Landry and Banbose Shando.

But, the leadership of True Sky Credit Union in the metro learned of the nonprofit bookstore’s plight from news reports and decided to help for the next two months.

They have donated additional money to buy 150 new books for Nappy Roots’ daycare and school programs.

bookstore
True Sky Credit Union Vice-president for Marketing and Community Development Jon Skelly (L) presents the check to Camille Landry (R) and Banbose Shando, co-founders of Nappy Roots. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

It’s a part of the credit union’s broader commitment to the community on the east side. They are spending $2 million to build a branch at N.E. 50th and MLK.

Jon Skelly, vice-president for marketing and community development for True Sky was at the news conference with the first check and spoke about working with Landry.

“It was fantastic to partner with Camille, not only to be able to handle and help them with expenses for the next several months. But, really, she had the idea for us to be able to then buy some books that we can give away through the bookstore for Black History Month as well,” said Skelly.

Rough year

Landry said in a news conference Monday that the bookstore also had their utilities shut off which were turned on again at least in one part of the store.

“We were totally desperate,” said Landry. “It’s just been a very rough year. We expected the Christmas season would give us a little bit of a nudge. But it really didn’t.”

“I think most people – with COVID numbers soaring the way they have been – stayed home and shopped online or simply didn’t shop because everybody’s broke. It’s not just us.”

Importance of literature

Landry said that literature has a great deal of meaning for all people.

“We have kids in the neighborhood that really don’t have any books of their own at home,” Landry said. “And, that’s why we give them away. And we’re particularly concentrating on that during Black History Month.”

She thanked all of the people in Oklahoma City who have donated to the bookstore and have helped in so many different ways.

Landry said that it costs “$1,100 to $1,200” each month to keep the utilities on. She said that she and Shando don’t take a salary for operating the store to focus all donations on its mission of resourcing the eastside with literature.

Gathering place

Landry told Free Press in an interview before the news conference that the bookstore started in a collective space on N.E. 23rd Street in 2017 and then moved to their current location at 50th and Kelley in 2018 opening on Juneteenth.

The bookstore has been a gathering place for adults, youth, and children over the last several years and that was a part of their appeal.

youth and children's march
Dillon Gilyard reads one of many announcement statements at the news conference for the Children’s March for Justice Sunday, June 21, 2021 at Nappy Roots Bookstore. (Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press)

In May and June, the bookstore’s parking lot was full when it became the center point of Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations connected to the horrific police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

But, the pandemic and cold weather took an increasing toll on the source of community energy for the bookstore.

“The thing that brings the most people into the store is the events. And once we were unable to do events, it meant that foot traffic was down,” said Landry.

“I don’t expect people to risk their health or their life to come buy a book. And so foot traffic dropped, revenue plummeted.”

Community commitment

While credit unions have always been member-owned by design and definition, typically they are focused on particular employees and the benefit to them.

True Sky was no different in their humble beginnings 75 years ago as a credit union for FAA employees in Oklahoma City.

Skelly told Free Press after the news conference that they continue to serve that constituency but are also expanding their services to underserved or “underbanked” communities like the east side of OKC.

We asked Skelly if that represents a mission shift or expansion from what it was in its earliest years.

“Really it is,” he said. “It’s because we wanted to make sure that we’re showing kind of the heart of not only our credit union but credit unions in general.”

“And I think some of the easiest ways to show that heart is to reach your arms out. Obviously, it’s figuratively instead of literally right now. But there are a lot of fantastic institutions just like the bookstore here that are doing amazing things in their community.”


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