Two of Kansas City’s newest Black-, woman-owned bookshops are teaming up to host Derecka Purnell — human rights lawyer, author and University of Missouri-Kansas City alumna — for a community discussion on police abolition and eliminating harm.
Aya Coffee + Books and BLK + BRWN are presenting “Community Book Chat with Derecka Purnell” 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, June 2 at BLK + BRWN’s brick and mortar in Midtown. The conversation will dive into themes of Purnell’s book “Becoming Abolitionists: Police, Protests, and the Pursuit of Freedom” and follow with a Q&A session and book signing.
“Derecka is inviting us to not just change what is happening, but to really dream a new dream of what freedom and liberation looks like as a community. When I think about both of our book stores, I think that is our purpose as well,” said Jahna Riley, the founder of Aya Coffee + Books, an online bookstore highlighting Black authors and stories.
Click here to RSVP for the Community Book Chat with Derecka Purnell.
Their community book chat comes at a crucial time with seasonal gun violence on the rise, noted Cori Smith, the owner of BLK + BRWN.
“We’ve seen how gun violence is a constant uptick in the summertime,” Smith said. “Talking about [gun violence] needs to lead into a bigger conversation around defunding the police or having proper policing of communities. So Derecka’s book doesn’t just challenge what abolitionism is, but is also tells us on a large scale about how defunding the police really factors into all these other caveats of our life.”
Kansas City is currently in the process of searching for a new police chief, Riley added — noting that Kansas City does not have local control over the police department. Rather, the department falls under the jurisdiction of the state of Missouri.
“All of that lends itself to this conversation of, ‘what does it look like to support all of the other systems that impact what our police have been like?’” Riley said.
A major theme of “Becoming Abolitionists” is connection, the women shared. Purnell discusses why issues around environment housing connect to abolitionism and then goes on to empower communities to think about what should be next, they continued.
For community organizers interested in picking up a copy of Purnell’s book, the Kansas City Action Fund purchased 25 books to share with local leaders, Riley noted. Other signed copies of “Becoming Abolitionists” will also be available for purchase.
Those who are interested in attending the community book chat needn’t have read “Becoming Abolitionists” ahead of time, the women emphasized. The only thing they ask for this free-of-charge event is to come with an open mind and honest curiosity.
“It’s an invitation to learn and to dream,” Riley said. “I think folks are really excited to have Derecka back in the city. She’s a former educator and UMKC alum, so it’s exciting to celebrate her and hear what she’s been up to.”
Purnell is set to be the keynote speaker at UMKC’s annual Women of Color Leadership Conference the following Friday, June 3.
Community over competition
BLK + BRWN is planning another joint event 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. June 19 at its Midtown location — in observance of Juneteenth.
“It will be free for people to stop by and you can support other Black and Brown-owned businesses,” Smith said. “It will be a really good time to show out and celebrate.”
This partnership between Aya Coffee + Books and BLK + BRWN will not be the last, Riley and Smith ensured. With two other book concepts being Black and woman-owned (Willa’s Books and Vinyl and Bliss Books and Wine), the women said they feel a sense of community versus competition.
“We all do something differently; we all bring our own magic and perspective into the space,” Riley shared. “There’s enough room for all of us to be wildly successful.”
“You got to trust Black women,” Smith added, smiling. “It’s truly an honor to be able to say that we get to be sisters in books.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.