Nandi’s Knowledge Cafe Feels Like Home

Eric T. Campbell

In her own words:
Nandi’s Knowledge Cafe Feels Like Home
Riverwise Interview

It hits you as soon as you cross the threshold and peer into the latest iteration of Nandi’s Knowledge Cafe—the curator of this space wants visitors to feel the full weight and majesty of Black history and African culture. The books are displayed on heavy mahogany-looking shelving, leaving the patron to wonder if they are meant to ever leave the building (we’re told the space is both bookstore and reading room). The wide variety of publications and genres convey the notion that all information contains knowledge. African masks are mounted high on the walls, positioned to oversee and protect it all.

The Knowledge Cafe’s new home, a large, former light industrial space on Oakman near Hamilton, defies conventional wisdom when it comes to location. But it’s a place where Nandi can confidently display the full range of books and memorabilia collected over time. She has become adept at finding value in what others have discarded, and effective at building relationships with distributors of books geared toward African history and Black culture. There is no shortage of space and every square inch, it seems, is utilized to inform and educate all who enter. From Detroit, to South Carolina, and back, after spending twelve years in a more visible location on Woodward, Nandi is continuing the effort to realize her own unique vision.

Riverwise sat with Nandi in the bookstore/library/cafe/vintage store to hear about the journey that led to Nandi’s Knowledge Cafe’s new location on the border of Highland Park and Detroit. What follows are excerpts from that conversation:

—e.t.c.

On Awakening
“When I started getting into my culture, I read a book, called Nile Valley Contributions To Civilization, by Anthony Browder. This was in South Carolina, where I had started studying with some Rastafarians. I just couldn’t believe all of the culture that we had missed in school and high school and middle school. This is stuff we should have learned in school. At the end of the day, black folks just invented the world. We invented the United States of America. It wouldn’t be without what we built and invented. And so I just wanted to share this knowledge. So I started with that book, and to this day that’s the book I push when someone come in and they wanna, if they’re beginners, and they wanna know about they’re culture. I go to Nile Valley Contributions To Civilization or Stolen Legacy…”

On Access to Books and Culture for Children
“Back in the flea market days, children used to, especially at the holiday time, walk by and they go, ‘Oh, there’s Africa,’ recognizing the little bit they’ve seen in school. ‘There go Africa’, they say…they want to stop, but the parents keep pulling the kids away. I said, one day, one day, I’m gonna be able to give children their books for free”…
…”At the Charles Wright museum they have the African World Festival, so every year for the past five years I would just sit up there and give the children their books. And I want the children to pick their books. I don’t want the parent to pick the book. Let’s see what your child is reading. See what interests them…
…We have a small section here (of children’s books) but I still have a shipping container with about 20,000 more books and so I have to go through in the springtime and get the rest of the books..and I can have a children’s book fair this summer. I just want them to walk through and get at least five books.”

 

On Future of the Knowledge Cafe
“You know in school they only give you a tiny bit of yourself, a tiny bit of your African self, or your culture I should say. And so when they come here, children and adults, they feel home. They feel like, this really does exist? I just get a kick out of people coming in here and getting excited about it…
…I mainly built this place for my people, my culture, and just to see it, it’s amazing to me how far I’ve come. I’d like to build this into a place where folks can come and do all the things they need to do on a Saturday. There’s still much more to come…
…Just last week it came to me that I’m going to build a little library. They keep talking about the fact that Highland Park doesn’t have a library. Well, they have a big library, but it’s not open. I don’t know about the politics behind it, you know, and I understand books are still in there, but it’s not open.”
…The conquerors of any civilization always went in first to destroy the library, to destroy the inscriptions, to destroy the knowledge. Because they’re a guide to what has been and what is to come. Books are amazing.”

Nandi’s Knowledge Cafe is located at 71 Oakman Blvd in Highland Park. For more information call 313-865-1288 or visit http://www.nandisknowledgecafe.com/.