Gwen Henderson, a Florida government official, is soon opening the doors to her new bookstore located in Tampa Heights to help expand the types of books that are available to community members.

Henderson noticed something was often missing on bookshelves and decided to fill in the gap with Black literature, according to Bay News 9. After she crafted the idea of the Black English Book Store, she hosted pop-ups at various events and was intentional about making it a reality. Those who entered the store’s grand opening on Dec. 2 supported Black authors and the stories they have to tell.

“Ninety-eight percent of the books are African American or Black-authored books,” Henderson said in an interview with Bay News 9. “People are going to enter this store maybe thinking about a book and then taking other books into consideration that they haven’t thought about because it’s all housed in one location.”

The entrepreneur shared that her store’s name was inspired by James Baldwin.

“So, the New York Times reprinted James Baldwin’s essay, and this was the title of the essay: If Black English isn’t a language, then tell me what is. You know so, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, the name of my bookstore is Black English,'” she said.

As a high school teacher, the bookshop became Henderson’s passion due to her love for education and empowering others.

“I am an educator, so everything I do is gonna stem from that background even in city council,” she said. “I come from a teacher’s perspective. And so the programming that exists for this bookstore is designed that way for our organizations to be the driving force behind children entering this space or books being taken to them.”

Since Henderson is face-to-face with teens during the week, she brought them in on her plan to get honest feedback on what some of her target market is interested in reading.

“I decided, ‘Let me do the assignment with you all and I’m gonna create a bookstore,'” she said. “So I pitched my store to teenagers. And that’s kinda scary, girl, because they have an opinion.”

Another reason Henderson felt compelled to carry out her dream was due to the closing of a beloved Black woman-owned bookstore over a decade ago that she frequented.

“We’ve been needing this. When Felica Winston passed away in 2009, she passed away, but our bookstore went with her in Temple Terrace. And I know it’s going to work because I would drive to her store just for the experience,” she said.

Henderson spoke on the importance of inclusion, noting that she will have a diverse array of books as her store has no plans to prevent any work from landing on her store’s shelves.

“I don’t have to play a narrative that someone else has decided this book is not worthy,” she said. “And it’s just so sad, especially when you look at the choices. There’s some tough books out there and parents should know what their children are reading, but banning a book about ‘I love my hair’ is ridiculous.”

She added, “I’m building the store that I want to go to.”