(from left) Carlos Franklin and Kip Johnson, five years into their venture, 'Black Stone Bookstore and Cultural Center' bringing education, culture and literacy to the community.
Photos by Ganiah Hinton
When Kip Johnson and Carlos Franklin met five years ago, they knew they wanted to bring something different to the Ypsilanti community. Today Black Stone Bookstore and Cultural Center is the only one of its kind in the Washtenaw County and one of a few independent bookstores in Ypsilanti.
Brick walls frame the 800 square feet full of color and culture in every corner. On display, a bounty of local art, African inspired fashion, handmade and imported goods, bold jewelry and wood carvings line the shelves. Curios and soy candles on one wall mirror the seemingly endless list of titles on another. Columns of paper and soft back books in genres from urban lit, Pan-African politics, and inspirational titles. Oprah Winfrey, Tyra Banks, Sista Souljah, and Barack Obama share a home on these shelves, much like Kip and Carlos share their vision for Black Stone. The dynamic duo seesaw back and forth with answers about whose in charge, both knowledgeable and passionate about their venture Kip say’s the partnership is a “perfect marriage” “He was rooting me on”, Johnson explains, after spending two years in sales, selling incense, oils, books, shea butter- at various venues Kip realized he had a liking for working with and around people and a storefront bringing his interests was needed in the community. When the two brains came together the rest was history. “It’s been the perfect marriage say’s Carlos “I’d say he’s like a brother,- we don’t agree on everything but still good, we’re scorpios, it comes together like a marriage.”
Both born and raised in Ypsi, Carlos and Kip saw a need for a space in the community for the kind of that spoke to their identities. The name ‘Blackstone’, was inspired by the thought of “a strong woman giving birth to new creation”. Already recognized as the #1 independent bookstore, ‘Black Stone’ truly is a rare jewel in the region. For Franklin Black Stone embodies many of the ideals he holds true. “Some people come in and see that I have this book, or that book saying,’Oh I wouldn’t have that in my store’…- when you look for education you need to be detach your feelings and deal with facts.” Kip adds, “A lot of times we as a people, we need to represent aggregation, and that’s what Blackstone represents being yourself - being unapologetically black. Until we get to the day where people see us as just a bookstore, because that’s what we bookstore, this is a store for everybody. There’s been a demise of a lot of black owned businesses and that has to change.”
As space focused on the African diaspora with education, goods, and programing for the community, Kip and Carlos saw other big name brand competitors falling short of their needs when they decided to open their doors.“They don’t carry an extensive variety of the things that we do, we’re also a cultural center, so it’s about connecting with the community, we’re built up on literacy and new material. “Black Men Read” a recently launched community program promoting literacy through storytelling. The idea, Kip explained was a response to false perceptions of black men “not being involved in the community.” ‘Black Men Read’ takes place every fourth Saturday of the month, details on this and other events can be found on the Black Stone Bookstore and Cultural Center social media pages. A good book store is like your favorite relatives house; you love going there-and you never know what you’ll come across, find out for yourself and visit them at 214 W. Michigan Ave. Ypsilanti, Michigan. Monday-Friday: 12-5pm, Saturday: 11-5pm, Sunday: Closed
Find Blackstone on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/BlackStoneBookstore/.