This page was last modified on 11 October 2012, at 01:02
Photo Credit: Bethany Rogers
This book center that grounds the south end of the quaint Bayou Road cultural and commercial corridor began 25 years ago in a living room in the Lower 9th Ward. In the early 80s, Vera Warren-Williams was a substitute teacher in the public schools and it struck her that none of the books she used in the classroom reflected the lives of the mostly African-American children she was teaching. She took it upon herself to bring in her personal library of children’s literature when teaching and found the effect of children seeing images of themselves in the books “profound.” Soon her personal collection was in demand among school children and teachers alike, and, on her mother’s advice (“neither a borrower nor lender be”), Vera’s book service was born. Originally intended to be just a book service, Vera’s Community Book Center began first as a presence at local book fairs then a rack at book stores around town and, ultimately, a commercial space. First, it existed on Ursulines Avenue in Treme and then for a time at a rented space on Broad.
In September of 2003, Vera purchased 2523 Bayou Road, a two-story commercial and residential building that abuts the brick-laid, diagonal slant of Bayou Road. Hurricane Katrina wiped out the CBC’s inventory of thoughtfully selected African-American adult and children’s literature, but importantly the community piece of Community Book Center held and gradually, through sidewalk book sales, building repairs, and lots of community gatherings, the CBC came back to life. Formal meetings and impromptu get-togethers continue to regularly take place among the racks of books and the framed art at the CBC. On any given day, you will find kids playing Scrabble, neighbors passing through with homemade pies, customers casually visiting behind the counter with Mama Jennifer (Vera’s charismatic colleague), a book club circled up at the front of the shop, or a team of contractors meeting in the business resource center at the rear.
Interview with Jennifer Hudson, Community Book Center Manager
“You can go to Barnes and Noble and have books everywhere you can see, from wall to wall, from floor to ceiling, everywhere’s a book. But it’s not the quantity, but the quality, and that’s what we pride ourselves on, the quality of the word. And besides that, where else can you go and have a one on one and talk about a book and give your views and they give it back to you?”
Interview with Vera Warren-Williams, Owner of the Community Book Center
“It’s important to emphasize the name is Community Book Center, not store. When we started in the home, it was a book center, a place where people could come and get information. We knew it was important to emphasize community, because our services weren’t specifically for African-Americans, even though that was the primary audience. But we felt it was important for the entire community to have access to this information because all of racial discrimination and prejudice is based on ignorance. The more we know about each other’s history and culture, we can eliminate some of those stereotypes and prejudices we carry. Sometimes you can’t go certain places and discuss things, so we created a safe haven here for political, cultural, and social discussions.”