When Sidney Keys III visited EyeSeeMe, a new bookstore in St. Louis, Missouri, something truly magnificent began.
After browsing through the kids’ section, Sidney grabbed a copy of Danny Dollar Millionaire Extraordinaire and sat on the floor to read. That’s when his mom, Winnie Caldwell, took out her phone and began giving a mini-tour of the adorable bookstore on Facebook Live, capturing her 11-year-old son intently reading.
Caldwell’s simple little video would go on to receive over 64,000 views and garner an overwhelming response from the Internet that got the mother and son thinking. In August, Sidney proposed “Books N Bros,” a book club for boys ages 8-12 that focuses on African-American literature. Currently, the book club has grown to 35 members and meets the first Sunday of every month, gathering to discuss books such as The Supadupa Kid, Hidden Figures (Young Readers’ Edition), and A Song of Harlem — books that all center around positive images of black male characters.
And that’s all made possible thanks to the kind of environment that EyeSeeMe provides.
You see, EyeSeeMe is one of the very few brick-and-mortar African American bookstores in the country. The shelves are packed with books featuring characters with brown skin, black hair, and brown eyes; some fictional and some historical. Vibrant posters and artwork of African American inventors, politicians, and religious leaders decorate the walls. The front door jingles each time a new customer comes in, and the melodic voice of store owner Pamela Blair greets them as they enter.
It’s the kind of neighborhood bookstore that leaves an impression on everyone who visits; and it’s become something of a gem in the heart of St. Louis.
As Blair shares on her website, she was motivated to open EyeSeeMe because of her own experiences raising black children in a world where most of the stories they read about African-American characters are told through the lens of slavery.
“Our children were always inquisitive,” she explains. “After history class they would often run home and recite the many stories they learned about the great men and women of the past. But, they often seemed to have a presumption that their own heritage began at slavery. Yet, we could tell that they yearned for historical stories that included themselves as heroes, victors, founders, creators, and contributors to society.”
Sidney’s book club is exactly what Blair hoped for when she first opened EyeSeeMe. As she shares on her website:
“Children need to have black role models and need to have a sense of history in order to understand who they are and build their self-esteem. When children see the many contributions that people that look like them have accomplished and have contributed to the world, they begin to believe in their own limitless potential.”
As a mom of four African American children myself, and one who has visited EyeSeeMe several times, there is nothing quite like the joy and relief I see on my children’s faces when they look up to see shelves and shelves full of books featuring people who look like them. EyeSeeMe is a place where our family feels welcomed and valued, a place where every single book cover speaks to my children, essentially saying, “You matter.” The selection is for kids of all ages and of every interest, from history to fairy tales to comic books and much more.
And now, Books N Bros offers even more encouragement for young boys who love to read. For those who want to join the book club but cannot afford the membership costs, Books N Bros even offers the Adopt-a-Bro program in honor of Sidney’s late uncle, Anthony “Chub” Caldwell. As a boy, Chub was deemed special needs, when it was later discovered through testing that he was a gifted child. Sidney and his mother want to make sure their club is inclusive of any child.
Every child should have a place where they know they belong and are embraced for exactly who they are, and Sidney’s book club and the EyeSeeMe bookstore do just that.