When these parents couldn’t find children’s books with strong Black characters, they created a pop-up store to sell them

A family in North Carolina created a pop-up store that sells children’s books featuring main characters who are Black to counter the lack of diversity in literature.

The idea was born in 2019 when 8-year-old Langston Miller, named after the Harlem Renaissance poet, told his parents about his dream of becoming a writer. Already an avid storyteller who spends his days filling up journal after journal with short stories, Langston said his books would be about young Black boys just like himself.

“I want books to show us Black children the way we are — beautiful, handsome, intelligent, and smart,” he told CNN.

Inspired by Langston’s dream, his parents set off on a mission to see how many books they could find that feature characters who look like him and his 4-year-old brother, Emerson, who was named after Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 19th-century American transcendentalist poet.

“We spent more than two hours and ended up finding just five books that had the style and quality of the stories he wanted to write,” his father, Duane Miller, told CNN. “When we noticed there wasn’t space for him, we decided to make that space for him ourselves.”

Months later, Liberation Station was born in mid-2019. The independent bookstore sells books written for, by and about the African Diaspora and specializes in the pop-up market.

Miller and his wife, Victoria Scott-Miller, find spots like hotel lobbies, boutiques, old churches, art galleries and even alleyways to transform into temporary spaces to sell books.

At some of their pop-ups, the family of four host story-time hours, where they read to customers and their children to “highlight people of color and their narratives,” Scott-Miller said.

Langston, now 9 years old, said the store plays an important in Raleigh’s Black community

“It’s important for everyone to see themselves in every way because that will help them become better people and follow their dreams,” he said.

Investing in their mission

Once a military family, the Millers moved to Raleigh in 2016 in hopes of starting over — but times were tough.

Duane Miller’s military-disability check covered rent, but there was little left for other expenses. The family began home schooling their children because they couldn’t afford gas to drive back and forth to school.

Still, the devoted parents felt compelled to invest what little savings they had into Liberation Station.

“We had no investors and no capital,” Scott-Miller said. “We took the last $225 we had left to purchase our first round of books that held the narratives we desired to see. There was a store going out of business that we purchased fixtures from to display the books in the trunk of our car.”

The business has since grown, netting more than $15,000 in its first year, and $12,000 in just two weeks in June, Scott-Miller said. Business started booming in May due to the George Floyd protests as people wanted to read more books about racial injustice, she said.

But no matter how big the business gets, the Miller’s say their goal will always be to ensure Black kids see positive representations of themselves outside of the home.

“Our boys are constantly affirmed, with their joy, genius and gifts amplified. But what happens when they walk outside of our doors?” Scott-Miller said.

Nothing will stop them from achieving their mission, she added. Not even the coronavirus pandemic.

To continue building their business, the Millers have temporarily transitioned to an online marketplace, where they offer hundreds of titles — including poetry, novels, and biographies.

Scott-Miller and Langston also hold virtual story times in collaboration with the North Carolina Museum of Art.