Names: Masani Barnwell (left), Patrice McKinney (right) & Dexter George (not pictured)
Ethnic background: Masani: African-Caribbean-American; Patrice: African American; Dexter: Tobagonian
Hometowns: Masani: Newark, NJ; Patrice: Newark, NJ; Dexter: Trinidad & Tobago
For decades, Masani Barnwell, Patrice McKinney and Dexter George have been operating one of the most prized community pillars in the city of Newark, NJ–Source of Knowledge bookstore. Drop that name on any resident in the Brick City and they will automatically think: Black books, Black art and Black business owners spreading knowledge throughout the community.
In essence, Source of Knowledge is just that: a source of knowledge. But it’s more than just a typical bookstore. Nestled in Downtown Newark, New Jersey these three masterminds have successfully created a haven for residents and community leaders alike to teach, learn, celebrate, uplift, prosper, elevate and give back. And they have plenty more in store. (Pun intended.)
In this exclusive interview with Miss CM, co-owner Masani Barnwell unveils how they all got started, what’s been keeping Source of Knowledge buzzing for so long, plans for the future, plus more.
CM: What inspired you all to start this business?
Masani: This business started as a family business on the streets of NYC in a little street cart that grew into a store in Brooklyn [and then] Newark. It started as a family business as a need for survival, and has since turned to the need to empower and educate our people, and the desire to continue to be our own bosses.
You all host a lot of community-oriented events at Source of Knowledge, so it has become this huge pillar of positivity in Newark. Why is it important for you all to use your store to uplift, support and enrich your community?
[It’s important for us] to use the store to uplift, support and enrich the community because [Black people] deserve to be around things that help and make us better as a people. We believe that we can and deserve all the best and good things that are out there in this world. Not to mention we need to see ourselves in a positive light because we created all things good in this world. It’s about getting and giving back to those who deserve it the most, yet get it the least.
Being that Newark, specifically Downtown Newark, is undergoing heavy gentrification, how have you all managed to survive as one of the longstanding Black-owned businesses still around?
We manage to survive as one of the longstanding Black-owned businesses by believing in our community to support our dream of making this a community business. We offer our community more than just books written by and about African-American people; we offer beautiful art, a positive environment, activities for the young, old and those in-between. Activities [and events] like: comedy shows, yoga, karaoke, open mic, lectures, food drives for the homeless, book drives for children–and just a safe and intelligent place for free conversation.
Not only are smaller businesses being wiped out, but we’re also living in a time where everything is digital, including book-consumption. How do you keep your business standing despite the fact that a lot of people now purchase, and/or read, their books through digital platforms?
We survive in a time where everything is digital because all those digital platforms don’t cater to us as a people nor to our history. Those really good novels and children’s books and our story can’t be saved on a kindle, but a book in the hand brings more joy than you can imagine to a child learning to read for the first time.
What have been some of your toughest challenges as small business owners and minority business owners over the years?
Our toughest challenge as small business owners and minority business owners over the years has been getting our people to support a Black-owned business in the same magnitude as we support other businesses.
Do any of you ever get tired and just want to say, “F—k it!”?
Sure, but then who doesn’t at some time feel that way about their job or career? But we go home every night and come back with a clean slate because we are determined to do the best for our community, our children and ourselves.
What gives you all the strength to keep going despite all the obstacles that you all have faced?
We get our strength to keep going from our faith in God, our people and family. To top it all off we like being our own bosses.
What is the overall goal that you all had in mind when the store was first founded? And what is the goal now?
The overall goal when we first opened the store was to offer books to our people and to own our own business. Now, the overall goal is to offer and create a legacy for our community, people and family.
Out of everything you all have done for the community and accomplished with Source of Knowledge, what achievement(s) are you most proud of?
What we are most proud of is acquiring this building and knowing that it is, and will be, here for our people in the middle of all this big European development. [It will be here] for our African people to enjoy and be a part of what this great city has to offer.
Any advice for those looking to start their own business, specifically for those who want to open a store?
Only advice we can really offer is stay focused on your dreams and believe in yourself. Make sure it’s a passion that you are willing to dedicate your time and life to.
What’s next for Source of Knowledge?
The sky is the limit for Source of Knowledge with God and the community behind us, but we do want a rooftop restaurant, a school, book publishing, community center–the list goes on… .
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