by Bridgette Hempstead
Vickie Williams, the well-known owner of Lem’s Life Enrichment Bookstore – the only black-owned bookstore in Washington State, specializing in African-American literature, history and visibility in the Pacific Northwest- passed away last Friday. Vicki made it her mission to ensure that our community was well educated about our African Heritage.
Vickie never missed an opportunity to empower our broad community by providing access to the phenomenal books and artistic works that blacks have given to the world.
Ironically, as a child this woman was not a voracious reader; however, as an adult she was truly the walking, talking Black library. Because of her love for the community she constantly gave space to the brothers and sisters that needed a place to meet for organizing, dialoguing, and communal restoration in the face of tragedy handed down by the world.
Her bookstore housed numerous educational events. These rousing affairs changed lives, ignited advocacy, and gave a strength that was not found in other communities outside the South End.
Columbia City may have been the physical location of the bookstore, however, Lem’s presence could be found at many community events throughout our city via its pop-up shops. Vickie gave the northwest every opportunity to learn about the struggles and triumphs of the African-American community by bringing in local and nationally renowned speakers well-versed in our heritage.
Many didn’t know about the many hours she gave in service to mentoring and counseling our youth and others who just needed a loving Vickie to ensure them that everything would be all right with the help of God.
Many of our young adults came to Vicki for guidance when combating so many of life’s injustices. Assuredly, she would always point them in the right course of action, saving them from making a consequential decision they might go on to regret for life.
For that reason, so many of our young people’s responses upon hearing about Vicki’s passing are typical of the words of Senait Brown:
Ms. Vickie was a black institution in her own right. She held us together by making sure all of us, young to old, had an unapologetic sense of self, purpose, and belonging. We will never let that legacy dies. Rest in Power Ms. Vicki!
If you had the opportunity to visit the bookstore you know you had a platform to share empowering stories of your life that might change someone else’s. It was so much more than a bookstore, however. Lem’s was the community center that was governed by pure love, strength and a portal to our black ancestral heritage.
The name Vickie means: Victory, triumphant.
In life, she not only embodied her name’s meaning, she was also a powerful warrior infused with the strength, fortitude, resilience, compassion and self-determination bestowed by what we define as Black Power… which is synonymous with Black Love.
Vickie you have left a footprint in our hearts, and you will be missed.
Thank You so much for believing in us and being such an amazing role model in more ways than one….
Bridgette Hempstead is the vice-president of the South Seattle Emerald’s Board of Directors. A two-time 20-year cancer survivor, Bridgette received her diagnosis on her 35th birthday. At that time, she found no resources for African American women. Therefore, she became the solution, and Cierra Sisters, Inc. was born. She found that women’s fear of breast cancer was due largely to the lack of knowledge. As the late author and entertainer, Earl Nightingale once stated, “Whenever we’re afraid, it’s because we don’t know enough. If we understood enough, we would never be afraid.” Inspired by Ms. Nightingale’s words, Bridgette chose the African word “Cierra” which means “knowing” to identify the community resource and educational organization which she began in 1996. Bridgette is a proud resident of the Skyway neighborhood.