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Celebrate and explore Black History Month with WKAR!

Lansing bookstore features books and other products made for and by Black women

wide shot of Socialight Society. Nyshell Lawrence is at the center behind a counter. Around her are tables with stacks of books, candles, mugs and bowls. There are several patrons wearing masks browsing the store.
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Socialight Society
Socialight Society has existed as a book club and a pop-up shop before finding a more permanent location in the Lansing Mall.

A few years ago, Lansing resident, Nyshell Lawrence was on a date with her husband at a bookstore where she was disappointed to find just a few books written by Black women.

There are only about a handful of Black-owned bookstores in Michigan, and up until last year, there were none in Lansing.

In 2021, Lawrence opened Socialight Society in the Lansing Mall to provide a space for Black women and to sell books and other products made by and for her community.

WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke with Lawrence about the store and how the community has responded.

Interview Highlights

On where the name of the store came from

The first part of it, so just thinking about sociology, people, gathering of people, and then light. I really want us to start thinking as a community, as a society, how can we be a light in someone else's life? So, Socialight, just the light for people.

On why it's important to have spaces for Black women

Black women tend to be at the forefront of so many causes, whether they directly affect us or not. Black women historically have stood up for and fought for everyone, and I just felt that it was really important that we create a space that celebrated Black women.

On her recommendations for books to check out during Black History Month

I would also just recommend to check out a biography that you didn't hear about in school. So, let's look at Angela Y. Davis. Let's look at Assata [Shakur]. Let's look at some of these other figures that we don't hear about every day and focus on them and read them for this month.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: A few years ago, Lansing resident, Nyshell Lawrence was on a date with her husband at a bookstore where she was disappointed to find just a few books written by Black women.

There are only about a handful of Black-owned bookstores in Michigan, and up until last year, there were none in Lansing.

In 2021, Lawrence ended up opening Socialight Society in the Lansing Mall to provide a space for Black women and to sell books and other products made by and for her community.

She joins me now. Thanks for being here.

Nyshell Lawrence: Thank you. So glad to be here today.

Saliby: Our listeners just heard a little bit of your story. Can you share more about why you created Socialight Society? The idea started with a book club, right?

Lawrence: Absolutely. So like you were saying, in 2017, I went on this date. I left the bookstore and it was either, do I call the manager? Or what do I do to make sure that there's more shelf space for stories written by Black women? And ultimately, I decided on opening a bookstore.

What do I do to make sure that there's more shelf space for stories written by Black women? And ultimately, I decided on opening a bookstore.

It wasn't something that I planned to do right this year, but some opportunities opened up for it to be able to happen. We started out as a book club online, and then a couple months later ventured into doing pop-up shops at local events. And we did that throughout the summer. And then in the fall, we opened a micro-shop inside of Soul Nutrition, which was a downtown Lansing business.

And after we were there for a couple weeks, we found out that they would be closing at the end of the year, and so that's how we ended up making the pivot to opening our own storefront in the Lansing Mall.

Saliby: Where does the name come from, Socialight Society?

Lawrence: The first part of it, so just thinking about sociology, people, gathering of people, and then light. I really want us to start thinking as a community, as a society, how can we be a light in someone else's life?

So, Socialight, just the light for people. That's where the name came from. It just kind of stuck.

Saliby: Your store focuses specifically on products and brands from women of color. Why do you think it's important for spaces to be centered on Black women as opposed to just the entire Black community?

Lawrence: Black women tend to be at the forefront of so many causes, whether they directly affect us or not. Black women historically have stood up for and fought for everyone, and I just felt that it was really important that we create a space that celebrated Black women.

When you come in here, it doesn't matter what degree you have. It doesn't matter like what cause you're standing for. It doesn't matter, if you're, you know, at the front of the picket line or whatever that you're doing. We're celebrating you just because of who you are. A lot of times when we walk into places, it's our credentials that make us.

I wanted Socialight Society to be a space where we could lay all that down, and we could celebrate people simply for who they were.

I wanted Socialight Society to be a space where we could lay all that down, and we could celebrate people simply for who they were. If you got a degree, great. You got a new job, great. We're automatically going to celebrate you for those things, but just the fact that you're a Black woman and you walked in here, we're celebrating you. And that's what Socialight Socety is all about.

Saliby: Do you have any stories that come to the top of your mind about maybe meeting a customer or somebody who was like, "This is not something I've been able to have before, a space for me?" Does any of that come to mind when I asked that question?

Lawrence: Absolutely. And honestly, there are so many people who have walked in, and who have said, either, "Wow, I've never seen you know, this many Black books in one space." Or there are women who have came in and just beeline to the counter to say, you know, "Thank you for creating this for us."

"This feels like home" is a phrase that I get a lot.

One thing that I hear all the time is that when people come in, they automatically feel welcome. "This feels like home" is a phrase that I get a lot. It just, it makes me so happy. It makes me so proud because that's exactly the feel that I was trying to create. So, to hear that from women when they walk in, it's just amazing.

Saliby: It is Black History Month, can you share maybe one or two books you would recommend our listeners check out in this last minute we have here?

Lawrence: I would recommend The 1619 Project. There's an adult version. There's also one for kids that's called The 1619: Born on the Water.

Let's look at some of these other figures that we don't hear about every day and focus on them and read them for this month.

And then I would also just recommend to check out a biography that you didn't hear about in school. So, let's look at Angela Y. Davis. Let's look at Assata [Shakur]. Let's look at some of these other figures that we don't hear about every day and focus on them and read them for this month.

Saliby: Nyshell Lawrence runs Socialight Society. Thank you for joining me.

Lawrence: Thanks so much for having me.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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