Calling out “free books” to passersby, organizers of a book giveaway in Chicago’s Roseland community on the Far South Side distributed more than 1,200 books Saturday while garnering support for a larger project they hope will spark a transformation of the neighborhood.
The giveaway was held in Palmer Park, 201 E. 111th St., where residents, including Krystal Pugh of Chicago, turned out to select backpacks or plastic bags filled with books for adults and for children sorted according to grade level.
Pugh’s daughters, Kamya, 11, Kylah, 7, Kaycie, 3, Khloe, 2, all took home books.
“They looked fun and colorful,” Kamya said about her selection, which included one called “Secret Coders.”
“I think she’ll like that one,” Pugh said. “She really likes science, coding, math and mysteries.”
The event was organized by Iesha Malone and Rebecca Silverman, two teachers at CICS Wrightwood Elementary School who are raising money to open a brick-and-mortar book store and cafe they plan to call Rose Café.
“We need something to feed the soul,” said Malone, who grew up in Roseland and spearheaded the idea for a bookstore in the neighborhood.
“Our motto is: books, coffee and community,” added Silverman. “We want to create a calm space where people can go to read and have healthy conversations.”
Silverman said the Roseland neighborhood is a book desert — a geographic area where books or other reading material are hard to find due to a lack of transportation and other issues.
To help address a lack of books in Roseland, Malone and Silverman held several book giveaways during the summer at various locations.
At the same time, they began working to raise money to open a permanent bookstore and café along Michigan Avenue between 109th and 115th streets.
“This neighborhood needs attention,” Malone said. “It’s important to get the resources we don’t have.”
Malone began last May to talk with community members about the neighborhood’s needs. Social media posts on the topic drew the attention of Silverman, who wanted to get involved.
The two are now seeking donations, grants and have established a GoFundMe campaign to raise the $75,000 they need to open the store. To date, they have raised about $10,000.
The idea has the support of Tyler Brunfield and Sophia Eisenberg, who attended the giveaway Saturday. They are both associated with the nonprofit Provide Chicago that is dedicated to providing necessary resources and information to Black and Brown communities.
Thirty or 40 years ago, Brunfield said Roseland had a vibrant downtown business district, but that’s no longer the case.
“Now you drive there and there is nothing there. There is no sense of economic development,” said Brunfield, who hopes a bookstore and café can help change that desolate picture.
Keisha Harris, who lives in the neighborhood, picked up a bag of books at the event for herself and her 3-year-old son. She also expressed support for the idea behind Rose Cafe.
“I’d love to see people who look like me selling something that I know we need,” said Harris, who would also like to see a grocery store, other businesses and better access to public transportation in the neighborhood.
“I was born and raised here,” she said. “So clearly I believe in Roseland. But we need to become a real neighborhood.”
The idea of establishing a bookstore and café gives her hope.
“It makes you feel like you have a chance,” she said.
Annemarie Mannion is a freelance contributor to WTTW News.