by Leija Farr
My childhood was replete with the smell of black, red and green candles burning. There was a certain beauty to this slow burn. It lit the back of the room as older women, showcasing their finest kente cloth, danced to the rhythms of drums until their bodies ruptured with incessant sweat and the ache was too big to ignore.
These were my earliest memories of Life Enrichment Bookstore. Kwanzaa was the holiday I looked forward to every year, knowing that the bookstore was my last slither of space where Blackness could not be filtered. Every year I entered through the doors, the Black national anthem was just getting started. Children, abandoning their play for this annual ritual, stood tall and recited the words as best as they could.
I remember being young, yearning for the day I would no longer have to read from the paper. Yearning to be like the elders in the room, sacrificing their worn knees to belong to this moment. The day I remembered all the words meant the world to me. I stood by the elders, with a grin that almost swallowed my words. An unmistakable stain of victory decorated across my face. This was my gold medal that the world could not take away from me. This and many more iconic Black moments took place in Life Enrichment Bookstore.
I learned more about spirituality. I understood how creativity is the raw portal that Black people have been confined to for thousands of years. The “good hair” or “Eurocentric beauty” concepts were thrown away at the door. This was our space. I was given the permission to be a Black girl. I marveled at my own evolution; to walk in lost and gradually find my crown. I was taught things about Africa I would’ve never learned in classrooms.
Ms. Vickie Williams made me understand, that despite the narrative captured by Western media, Africa is paradise. She forced books into my hands and said, “You would love this”. I never questioned her eagerness. I knew her mission in life was to guide the hunger for knowledge in adolescence to be fed. Williams was unapologetically African. Her presence was felt before she entered a room. A presence that had to live long before her time. By creating Life Enrichment Bookstore, she created so much more. She gave marginalized and disenfranchised folk a sanctuary.
We could yell and stomp our feet. Our afros were loud and our clothes even louder. Our Blackness was deafening. And all the while, the Kwanzaa candles were burning, collapsing into wax with each minute. At the end of the night, the fire may have died, but our Blackness was alive. Our Blackness is alive.
Vickie Williams Legacy Day will be held at LEM’s Life Enrichment Bookstore on Saturday, February 17th from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Leija Farr is a former Seattle Youth Poet Laureate
Featured image by Alex Garland