Transcribed from a conversation between Jeremee DeMoir, owner of DeMoir Books & Things, and Kristen Davis, Director of Strategic Partnerships for Give901.
We are excited to announce Bookmark901, a collaboration between Give901, Choose901, and Jeremee DeMoir, owner of DeMoir Books & Things. Check your Jeremee’s ongoing list of book recommendations in honor of Black History Month here!
Now, time to introduce ourselves and share why we are so excited about this project.
Kristen: Tell me about DeMoir Books & Things.
Jeremee: DeMoir Books & Things is quickly becoming one of Memphis’s prominent independent bookstores. We are Black-owned, which is really amazing for a city that’s predominantly 60 percent African-American. One of my favorite pieces is our local authors’ shelves, which hold books written by Memphians.
Kristen: Prior to opening DeMoir Books & Things last summer, you were an English teacher. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and initial interest in education?
Jeremee: I had some really amazing teachers in high school. My English teacher, Miss Hope, and my art history teacher, the late Natalie Smith, were so influential in my life. They helped me navigate things. I was a first generation college student, so I didn’t have family members who had gone before to help guide me through. Once I graduated, I wanted to give back to the community of people that looked like me, and those that didn’t. Once I graduated, I wanted to give back to the community of people that looked like me, and those that didn’t.
Jeremee DeMoir of DeMoir Books & Things
Kristen: As a teacher, was there anything you noticed that worked particularly well to develop a love of reading in your classroom?
Jeremee: There has been a resurgence in the young adult fiction genre over the past five to six years. People are writing more stories that are real and it is drawing kids in because they need something to relate to. They need representation and that’s been a huge thing that’s occurring. Nonfiction has been a driving force to engage students in relatable stories.
One thing that we have at the store is a program where each child gets a book regardless of if their parent buys one or not. They get to pick out the book. Sometimes kids just need an extra push to love books.
Kristen: A book could make such a difference for a child who’s relating to a character. I also think it can be really impactful for someone who doesn’t necessarily relate but gains exposure by reading books and learning what their peers may be dealing with.
Jeremee: The collection of books I’m recommending for Black History Month cover the spectrum of topics. They are not just for any one particular race. I’m excited to discuss them with the world and hopefully have some really great conversations. It’s a very powerful list that covers books for young children to middle grades to young adults to adults and everywhere in between. Hopefully it will lead to great conversation starters for people.
Jeremee: As a Memphian, I am familiar with Choose901 as a resource for news, jobs, and information on all the great things happening in our city, but what is Give901?
Kristen: Give901 is the newest campaign to come out of City Leadership, the organization that powers Choose901, Teach901 and Serve901. With Give901, we are partnering with 10 nonprofits here in Memphis who are all doing amazing work with K through 12 education initiatives. Our goal is to ensure that children from all over the city, especially those from the poorest neighborhoods in Memphis, have access to great schools, great teachers and great mentors.
Give901 is made up of members, individuals or entire companies, committed to giving their time, treasure, and voice to supporting these nonprofits. We build custom partnerships with the companies or individuals to figure out how they want to be involved. Do you want to be a mentor? Are you able to offer financial support? Do you want to bring your whole company or team together for a day of service?
Jeremee: How did your work with Give901 lead to this collaboration with DeMoir Books & Things?
Kristen: I’ve talked with leaders at several of our partner schools about the need for more books that are written by and feature people who look like their students. I had become very cognizant of the need for more inclusive book selections and then all of the sudden you were here helping to fill that gap.
Kristen: Let’s talk about what readers can expect from us in February. I don’t want to give away the titles yet, but give us a taste of what is coming.
Jeremee: I thought about what books have been really influential to me and to students that I’ve taught across demographics. I thought of books that had central messages that would transcend any particular demographic.
We have all these amazing Anglo-Saxon authors that have told some really cool stories that sometimes have diverse characters, but that’s not always the focus or at the forefront. I think it’s really great to also have new voices like Angie Thomas or Tomi Adeyemi. It’s so amazing to have all these different voices that are shedding light that it’s ok for your main characters to be a person of color.
My whole goal is really to just push conversations and awareness and hopefully be a voice and not an echo.
Kristen: Well, I can’t wait to see your book recommendations and start reading. In addition to following the project on social media, what else can Memphians do to learn about Black History in February and all throughout the year?
- Check out this amazing campaign called Black History is 365.
- Visit museums that house black art—one idea is to check out the exhibits at TONE.
- Unapologetic is a Black arts collective in Memphis.
- Visit Black-owned coffee shops. Cxfeeblack has the Anti Gentrification Coffee Club on National Street. Muggin is one to visit in Whitehaven.
- Visit Black-owned businesses and listen to people’s stories. Genuinely be interested in the narrative that is being shifted and created. Just as with anyone, there’s a wealth of knowledge and stories to be told. Immerse yourself in a Black experience. (Alcenia’s, The Four Way, The BBQ Shop, Terra Cotta, and soon to open Inkwell Bar are just a small selection of the amazing places you could visit).
- Buy your book from DeMoir Books because we specialize in the Black experience.
Those are ways in which you can learn about Black history, not just in February, but throughout the year.