Karibu Books, an African-American specialty store, now includes five locations in the Washington, D.C. area, with a sixth opening in Baltimore later in 2005. The company's philosophy is to empower and educate people by providing complete access to books by and about people of African descent.
The name, pronounced KA-REE-BOO, means "welcome" in KiSwahili, the most widely spoken African language. The nation's largest black bookstore belies its humble roots -- venture capital of $500 in 1992 for a street vending business in the Washington area, and on the campuses of Howard University and Bowie State University, according to the store's marketing director Lee McDonald.
Yao Hoke Glover III and spouse, Karla Wilkerson-Glover, founded the business, and with Simba Sana, now own the five current locations, which are operated by a staff of 40 and feature hundreds of yearly in-store and community events and free writers workshops.
Karibu Books at The Mall at Prince George's (top), Bowie Town Center (center), and Pentagon City Mall (bottom).
Four of the five Karibu stores are located in Prince George's County, Maryland, the nation's wealthiest African-American community, the fifth location is in the Pentagon City Mall in Arlington, Virginia. Karibu's flagship store, and home to its the administrative offices, is in The Mall at Prince George's, in Hyattsville, Maryland. The store benefits from a centralized buying and distribution system and a central marketing and special events staff, but each store has its own manager.
The list of authors appearing at Karibu's many events is a veritable who's who of major black writers, academics, artists, and journalists -- Dr. Maya Angelou, Vernon Jordan, E. Lynn Harris, Spike Lee, Toni Morrison, and Walter Mosley, to name a few. McDonald told BTW that Karibu is committed to providing a comfortable space for customers to celebrate black history and accomplishments and to meet both well-known and up-and-coming writers in person and through a comprehensive selection of literature.
Although general bookstores and the largest chain stores may carry mainstream black literature and bestsellers, McDonald said, "Once a person wants to go deeper into culturally related inventory, including small press and independently published works, Karibu fills that niche. Many of our titles are by self-published authors. We maintain a 'Core' selection of literature focusing on African culture from ancient civilization to modern society, and other subject categories such as Brothers and Sisters, Race & Culture, Street Life, and Autobiography. Our children's section is one of the largest around. In our newest section -- Current Affairs -- you will find most of our books not by or specifically about African Americans. Our customers are a diverse group and many books about politics, religion, economics, and health will pertain to current issues related to the Black community."
Some of these books include Karibu bestsellers such as The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For (Rick Warren, Zondervan), Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media That Love Them (Amy Goodman, Hyperion), and various works of "people's history" by Howard Zinn. McDonald, who also selects books to feature on the store's BookSense.com Web site, www.karibubooks.com/, finds the Book Sense Picks most useful in searching out the titles that offer the best fit.
Karibu's commitment to community extends to partnerships with institutions throughout the region. According to McDonald, developing these relationships helps to advance common interests. A good example is Karibu's sponsorship of free monthly writing workshops at the store presented by the Black Writer's Guild. This "gives access to many folks who may want to write but can't afford the existing writing resources." Karibu's slogan may say it best: Spread the word Karibu celebrates Black History and accomplishments 365 days of the year! -- Nomi Schwartz