I purchased an independent bookstore in Salisbury, North Carolina just six months ago, after taking leave from my career as a foreign service officer with the U.S. Department of State. After tours in Afghanistan, India, and other cities overseas, I was eager to give my four-year-old daughter stability and sidewalks for a while as she learned what it means to be an American at such an interesting moment in the history of our nation.
Flash forward four months: my grandmother passed away; COVID-19 loomed large on the horizon for so many others, particularly those living in retirement communities like hers. I was grateful to be near her towards the end and to live in a town so fiercely loyal to my bookstore in its hour of need. The store was deemed essential by the government of North Carolina as a purveyor of educational materials and remained open for business throughout the pandemic. To honor my beloved grandma, and show appreciation to all the customers who phoned or emailed in their orders, my daughter and I filled the Little Free Libraries in Rowan County with over 500 new books directly from our shelves. I knew so many people were struggling, and this felt like a great opportunity to give a little back to a community that warmly welcomed us with open arms and tremendous support.
Zoom ahead another month or so, and here I am planning to flood the Little Free Libraries of Rowan County again—this time with antiracist titles in response to a boycott some white supremacists launched against my store. My bookstore was added to an anonymously created Facebook page (since taken down) called “Boycott Salisbury” and its list of businesses to boycott “into bankruptcy.” The boycott targeted over 20 local businesses which organizers deemed overtly supportive of moving a Confederate monument away from the center of our downtown (currently perhaps 100 yards from my storefront in Salisbury) and was called in response to the Salisbury’s City Council unanimous vote in favor of moving the monument. The council’s vote was supported by public safety concerns surrounding the statue in the wake of a nonlethal shooting, committed by a white supremacist, in front of a crowd gathered nearby the week prior.
The boycott comically backfired. I had the most profitable week in my ownership of the store, and I doubled down to leverage community support with my new Little Free Library initiative announced over GoFundMe.
I had originally hoped to order at least 100 books by the end of this campaign. Twenty-four hours in, I’ve already ordered 800 books, raised my financial goal 5 times, and felt so moved by the generosity of my social network. I’ve already raised over $3000 to buy antiracist titles for the Little Free Libraries in my county. This has been such an incredible learning experience for me, and the work is just beginning. I hope my story has given you a little fire in your belly as well. Small steps can make huge ripples, especially in these interesting days, yet silence can halt these movements just as quickly.
Let us not be silent.
Let’s flood Rowan County’s Little Free Libraries with beautiful narratives of the world as we want it to be, and know we can take action to achieve this together.