Tia Hamilton sees her Urban Reads Bookstore as a hub for Black authors, including talented writers behind bars.
She opened Urban Reads late last year, and the Greenmount Avenue location quickly created an atmosphere where residents and others “can feel safe, read,
explore, vibe, and their children— our children— can connect with these books.”
“This goal has been made every day since we opened,” said Hamilton, who noted being inspired by her ownership of “State Vs. Us Magazine, which she launched a few years ago to help elevate the voices of those who have served prison time and those still in lockup.
“I tried to get other local companies to place my magazine in their stores, and it never happened. They never reached back out to me,” Hamilton said. “So I decided to open up my own store and sell my magazine, and put prison authors in the store so their work can be seen.”
Hamilton added that she felt discriminated against by Mondawmin Mall after an agreement to have her move into space there was nixed because “someone believed I was too political.”
“I then decided that this was going to be one of those situations where I pull up my own seat and create my own table with other people like me. Now we have Urban Reads,” Hamilton declared.
She offered that African Americans— particularly Black men— enjoy the space on Greenmount Avenue. Baltimore Times Publisher, Joy Bramble noted how impressed she was when happening upon Urban Reads and finding it filled with Black men quietly reading books.
Hamilton says it’s a myth that people read more books online than they do the physical copy. “I travel a lot, and I see more people with books in hand than a device,” she said.
“At Urban Reads, we can place authors, local, indie and prison authors in a space they [have] never been in before. They can finally and proudly say they are on a shelf of a bookstore in their community. It’s a blessing for themandus,” noted Hamilton, herself a formerly incarcerated individual. “To see their faces, smiles and joy is dope to us. We do book signings. We have community events such as first aid and CPR, financial literacy for youth entrepreneurs, free reading classes, creative wring courses, spoken word for our youth, and so much more in the works. We have a cafe with food, Seamoss, soaps, CBD, notary, faxing, copies and Internet cafe. We have our community on our back, and we are ok with that. Serving and saving ours is important.”
An entrepreneur since 2003, Hamilton says she is determined to give back to her community.
“I need [the community] to know that there’s nothing about us without us. We are the buying power and until we realize that we will continue to suffer. Be patient with most Black-owned companies because most of us never had or will get the opportunity to seek financial help to build a better business or deliver quality products,” Hamilton said. “Our community wasn’t taught that. We are taught to go to school and work for the white man. I’m here to change that narrative. Consumers of Black-owned businesses need to learn how to give constructive and positive feedback. Love the companies you support, help them thrive, and stop blasting them on social media. If you have a resource that you think may help someone in business, give that up to take advantage of the growth. Teach your children finances and stocks. If you don’t know how— then, find someone who does. As a Black community, we need to learn that ‘Pookie’ from the projects cannot show you how to build a business if they never built one. That’s like me telling you how to build a house, and I never have. A lot of this is common sense. Stay humble, stay open, and stay consistent in all you do. And let’s win.”