How a donor and a bookstore are educating readers in fight against racism

Editor's note: This column is part of a series featuring Lakeshore residents sharing their stories about why they feel compelled to be involved in the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Reader’s World has been a staple of downtown Holland ever since it opened in 1967 by current owner Lisa Hungerink's grandfather and parents. I’ve worked at the beloved book shop since October 2018 but had previously been a customer for a long time. In fact, when I moved to Holland in 2010 Reader’s World was the very first place I checked out.

Lisa Hungerink, the third-generation of Reader's World, and Steven Penkevich. The store participates in many community events, including partnering with the Big Read every year to get copies of the books to the public, working together with teachers to create summer reading courses, and even offering discounts to book clubs to help keep people connected through the power of reading. 
Like everyone on staff, I believe literature has the potential to build empathy, empower understanding, and shape worldviews, and so the store tries to maintain a well-curated and diverse stock of books to fit a wide variety of needs.

Showing support

After the murder of George Floyd in late May, the staff was looking for productive ways to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement and to help the local community respond in light of the protests going on around the country. 
That is when an amazing friend of the bookstore — who would prefer to remain anonymous — came up with the idea of a pay-it-forward donation to allow people to obtain a book on the topic of antiracism free of charge. 
The personal donation was incredibly generous, and I am grateful to the donor for both the gift and the idea. Remarkably, within hours of a store post about the opportunity on social media, it had been shared more than 300 times. Everyone from locals and regional community organizations to a pastor in New York passed the word along.

A stream of people

The store opened June 4 to a constant stream of people hoping to pick up a book. It was wonderful to see. The books ran out quickly, but the store started taking orders for when the publishers are able to replenish stock. People did not seem to mind potentially having to wait, and many were delighted to hear that these books have become so immensely popular nationwide. 
Steven Penkevich in front of Reader's World in downtown Holland.  
The most commonly asked-for titles were Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, by Ibram X. Kendi, as well as the young readers’ edition of that book, titled Stamped, which was co-written with Jason Reynolds; I’m Still Here: Black Dignity In a World Made For Whiteness, by Grand Rapids author Austin Channing Brown; and Me and White Supremacy, by Layla Saad. 
Budget depleted quickly
Ultimately, in less than three hours that morning, the store went through the donated budget, which already had been doubled by the gracious donor after seeing the tremendous amount of interest in the books. Thanks to the teamwork of our tremendous staff and all their hard work the whole event went smoothly.

Reader’s World is hoping to offer this opportunity again soon. Although Holland is known for being a Dutch area, it is, in fact, a wonderfully diverse community, and the store would like to help that diversity flourish. After all, Reader’s World has been through over 50 years of American history and now wants to help people understand the struggles and suffering led to the Black Lives Matter movement. Books are one way to share that experience. 
Finding ways to promote anti-racist learning will hopefully lead to people taking the lessons to heart and expressing them through their actions. Unfortunately, most of the titles are currently awaiting a reprinting, but there are already several interested donors who would like to assist the store in providing more free copies of the aforementioned books when they do become available. 
I would encourage everyone to read them and take them to heart.
Steven Penkevich is a Holland resident and poet. 
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