Atu on Rochester’s Black History

February 3, 2016

As we now celebrate Black History Month, here is a reflection of a hometown establishment that was celebratory of African American culture 365 days a year.

In 1986, then married couple Gerald Chaka, a member of the black cultural nationalist US Organization & Terry Chaka, a Rochester native and visual artist, opened Rochester, New York’s first Afrocentric bookstore and art gallery called Kitabu Kingdom. Kitabu is the Swahili word for book.

The significance of the grand opening of the store in 1986 is that it was the same year that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was observed as a national holiday.

Kitabu Kingdom sold African American books, original fine art, collectibles from Africa, Afrocentric fashions and provided custom framing services. The store also served as an African American community center where they put on African Fashion Shows, Drumming Classes, Kwanzaa celebrations and various special events with prominent African American artists, poets, authors, designers and activists to raise cultural consciousness and pride. Additionally, Kitabu Kingdom provided African American children’s books and workshops to the city school district, helping to get multi-cultural education into the educational curriculum.

As one of the largest African American owned bookstores in the nation, Kitabu Kingdom became a hub for raising Afrocentric awareness in western New York. It first opened on Genesee Street and later expanded by popular demand to a two story building on Thurston Road. The store eventually closed after a decade of being in business.

Written by Atu

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