Alkebu-Lan Images, a cornerstone of the North Nashville community for over 35 years, lost its founder early last week. Yusef Harris – teacher, mentor, mountaineer of Mount Kilimanjaro – died on Monday, January 3. He was 66 years old.
Harris opened Alkebu-Lan in 1986 while pursuing his doctorate in psychology at Vanderbilt University and teaching part-time at Tennessee State University. The Jefferson Street property was put up for sale and he put down a $ 15,000 down payment with a loan from the Metro Development and Housing Agency. Since then, the store has become a cultural mecca, selling books, art, clothing and other products that reflect and celebrate African culture.
“Yusef knew that black people needed to see images of themselves which were uplifting” wrote Scene contributor Mr. Simone Boyd in March. “He saw a way to do it through the books.”
It’s hard to meet a black person who grew up in Nashville and didn’t feel Harris’ impact in one way or another. He has mentored and counseled hundreds of black business owners, his son and business partner Jordan Harris told Boyd. Chakita Patterson, owner of United Street Tours, describes Harris’s impact on her business in a Facebook post. “He was one of the most capable people I have ever met,” Patterson writes. “Not in an authoritarian manner. Not in the sense of “I’m smarter than you”. But in a benevolent way. … He gave me the knowledge I needed to take my first band on tour.
Countless poets and spoken word artists found their voices at Harris’s open mic parties, and the shop was a place where emerging black writers were sure to find support. In a social media post, poet Stephanie Pruitt Gaines called the store a “soft landing place,” where Harris hosted local black authors. “He continued to guide me on the book trade and travel for readings and speaking engagements and on how to keep a book signing line alive and meaningful to the public, booksellers and myself,” writes Gaines. . “He took me to literary events across the country and showed me how to read the play and stay true to myself and my mission.”
When Gaines lamented the morning story hours elsewhere in town, which were difficult for working parents to attend, Harris opened its doors for an evening story time that Gaines hosted and dated with his daughter for years.
In a 2015 interview with the Scene, Harris said his goal was to “instill and enhance a person’s self-image.”
“I recognize that in order to help people have a more positive self-esteem and self-image,” said Harris, “they need to read more and be aware of their culture, heritage and history – especially them. African Americans “.
Harris has traveled abroad throughout his life, including Kenya, Ethiopia, Senegal and Jamaica, according to his lifelong friend Donald Keene. “Over the years,” Keene writes on Facebook, “Yusef was a leader and innovator in promoting the empowerment and education of black communities in Nashville and across the United States. He was the voice and instrument of black pride.
“I met him when I was in 7th grade trying to buy an African leather locket that they wore in all the hip-hop videos from the late 80s,” writes James Beard, alumnus of the Tennessee State University. “He challenged me to tell him what the locket meant. Of course, I didn’t know. I just wanted to wear what Brand Nubian’s Grand Puba was wearing. He took the time to explain to me what red, gold, green and red, black and green mean. It was my first foray into realizing that there was another story in me that I knew nothing about. ”
In a tweetTSU professor and North Nashville historian Dr. Learotha Williams referred to the famous Harlem bookstore, the African National Memorial Bookstore: and House of Clean Propaganda.
In December 2020, Harris and his son bought a building on Buchanan Street and expanded Alkebu-Lan. “If you want to be brick and mortar, you have to be able to control your land,” Harris told the SceneIt’s Boyd.
“This principle,” Boyd wrote, “enabled Alkebu-Lan to define success outside of capitalism and cultivate an environment to help other businesses thrive. “