The free library box installed at the Learning Corridor in Newhallville. Tupac Shakur's face is painted on box.
There isn’t a library branch in Newhallville, and it’s been making Doreen Abubakar feel like her neighborhood is neglected. Residents either have to go to the Stetson Branch on Dixwell Avenue, or head to the main library downtown. Beyond the lack of books, there isn’t a beautiful space for the community to gather. At least, not yet.
Two newly installed “Knowledge Boxes” in the Newhallville Learning Corridor are trying to change that landscape. This past Saturday, representatives from H.O.P.E. Inc. and We Need More Thinkers (WNMT) broke ground on two little free library boxes at the Learning Corridor near the Farmington Canal and in front of New Hope Baptist Church at 109 Butler St. The Community Place-Making Engagement Network (CPEN) will manage the first library. The church and H.O.P.E Inc. will oversee the other library.
The boxes feature historical Black figures including Ericka Huggins, Martin Luther King Jr., and Tupac Shakur, who are all painted in vibrant color. There are books on Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, and Aretha Franklin among dozens of other Black icons.
Mark-Anthony Tynes installing the second library box infront of New Hope Baptist Church
For Mark-Anthony Tynes, the founder of WNMT, books are the only start of a long-journey towards self-respect. Books can offer meaningful representation for children, he said.
“I want young kids to see reflections of themselves—see their potential in books,” he said. “Knowledge is power and we want to pass it forward.”
Books also offer a wealth of knowledge about the outside world. Tynes said he hopes that children can learn about the outside world and rely on their knowledge from books to navigate it.
The new boxes are part of the corridor’s continued flourishing, said Abubakar. For years, she and other neighborhood advocates have been working to reclaim and beautify the space, which was once known as “The Mudhole.” Even during the pandemic, she expanded programming that included biking groups, free Saturday pancake breakfasts, storm drain and other public art, a community garden, and seasonal festivals.
Newhallville residents who attended the library installation
She called the knowledge box the next step in beautifying the area and incorporating more Black history, culture, and music into the neighborhood. This summer, she plans to host cultural events in the corridor.
“This is a place for the community to gather,” she said. “We’re going to engage the people so they can take over the space.”
Down the road at Butler Street, H.O.P.E. Inc. Founder and President Rev. John Cotton, spoke about the importance of continuing to academically support youth through an especially challenging school year. In partnership with H.O.P.E. Inc.., the church has offered after school tutoring and distance learning workspace for students.
The church will also house a summer enrichment program for students kindergarten through eight grade that starts June 21. The free libraries are a continuation of the work being done to support students, he said.
Residents attending the free library installation.
For Brother Nathan L. Joyner, one of the educators at the Learning Corridor Knowledge Box, the free library is a way to provide culturally competent educational resources for students outside of school. These books are a way to connect Black youth with their history and learn more about themselves.
To complement the literature, Joyner has also put together a broad selection of books that cover the natural sciences, dinosaurs, and the solar system. The youth’s education is not complete if young people are not getting a well-rounded education about the world around them, he said.
“The African people were stripped of their culture and name,” he said. “A world of experiences is about to open."
Programming will begin after the school year ends. For further information about events and times please visit the CPEN website here.