The Chapter's Not Over: How The Bronx Can Save Literacy and Education
October 19, 2016
"What are you going to do in 2016?" my mom asked, shortly after I recovered from the press conferences and phone interviews after my friend Jessica and I wrote a successful petition to save the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Bay Plaza in 2014.
"I don't know. I'll cross that bridge when I get to it...I guess..." I replied. 2016 seemed so far away.
Well, that day has come. The 2-year lease extension that the petition inspired has since come to a close. The Barnes and Noble of Bay Plaza, the very last bookstore in the Bronx, will close. Those in my social networks are furious, and my e-mail and Facebook inboxes are blowing up with questions. Everyone wants to know what the next steps are. Will there be any action? Will there be another petition?
The short answer is no. I will not be doing another petition.
However I have realized that we, as a borough, will do just fine without Barnes and Noble. We are at a blank slate now where we can create new opportunities for learning and literacy. I have recently been blessed to work at two amazing cultural institutions in the borough (that sell books in their gift shops) and the evidence that Bronxites want to learn is staggering. As an environmental educator, my days are absolutely jam packed with students wanting to learn more about the world.
Our options now are to take advantage of what we do have. Let's take our kids to the Bronx Zoo, the Botanical Garden, to Wave Hill, to the Bartow-Pell Mansion, to Poe Cottage, and more. Let's encourage our universities to open up the campus gates and allow tours for our young ones and possibly let them use the bookstores. Let's take advantage of our libraries, one of which is in each neighborhood.
Let's encourage those who want to open up independent bookstores, as well as other literary pursuits. Noelle Santos, a Bronxite, plans on opening a brick-and-mortar store called The Lit Bar that will bring books to the South Bronx. Mosaic Literary Magazine is a great resource for those interested in literature related to the African diaspora. The Bronx Book Fair, although it has already occurred, is another cool resource that demonstrates just how much the Bronx loves to read. Because we have lost a major chain retailer, this is an empty void that is begging to be filled by creative, outgoing minds. Some day, given our circumstances, we could become the county with the most bookstores in the state!
Of course, the challenge to the Bronx rising as a literary powerhouse lies within us. When independent bookstores open, will we actually purchase from them? Will we visit our libraries and prove that we need them in our communities? We are angry now that Barnes and Noble is leaving, but it is critical to care beyond crunch time. I think that we can rise to this challenge. In fact, I challenge every single Bronxite to buy or borrow a book this week: from the store, from Amazon, from wherever. Let's just do it, and prove ourselves to the world.