KATY, Texas (KTRK) -- It's a place that aims to make everyone feel like they matter, belong, and are supported. Brown Sugar Cafe and Books in Katy opened a year ago this month and features the work of Black and brown authors, musicians, and artists.
The owner, Raven White, knows how important it is to have a space where people of all ethnic backgrounds can feel represented, seen, and celebrated. Growing up, she says she didn't see or learn about many figures or characters in books and history who looked or sounded like her.
She remembers frequenting a neighborhood bookstore while growing up in Chicago, where she could find diverse and cultural literature. When the store closed down, she felt like she had nowhere else to go.
"A lot of times when you did see books about Black individuals, African or African Americans, Ethiopians, any other type of race, there was negativity surrounding it," White said.
After moving to Southeast Texas 12 years ago and seeing the area become one of the battlegrounds for banned books, she became concerned about access to diverse literature for children and teens. As a mother herself and a passionate reader, she wanted to create a space where young, curious, creative, and expressive minds could thrive.
"I know you want little Timothy, who may be our next president, to know about every culture. They are our future stars, politicians, and spiritual leaders. Right now, they're still dreaming. This is the time to make magic. Literacy is so important because it helps take them to different places across the world without having to leave their living room," White said.
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She also wanted that space to be a place where community members in need could come for support and resources. White shared that during the winter storm in 2021, she felt like she didn't have many people or places to turn to for help and assistance.
"I believe that if you're going to complain about something, you should provide a solution for it too. This was my solution, to build a space where the community could come and get resources. So, of course, I bridged it with my love of literacy and art and music," White said. "Our tagline is 'Where culture meets community.'"
That's why a year ago, she opened Brown Sugar Cafe and Books. With the help of new friends and volunteers, who she now calls the 'Vibe Tribe,' they've helped the business thrive. You can find a wide variety of books from a diverse selection of authors there. But it serves as much more than a bookstore and cafe.
It's also a venue where local artists can showcase their work, facilitate insightful conversations in the podcast room, and hold community events. They also hold a summer program called Camp Culture, where children from 6 to 16 years old can learn different entrepreneurial skills. White says all she wants is for everyone to feel welcome and included.
"We want the people to come in and feel like they are at home. We want every race, culture, background to feel seen. There are no little shelves. Everyone is mixed in everywhere," she said.
White admits she didn't always know whether Brown Sugar was having an impact on the community. Several months ago, she announced that her bookstore was closing down and she would be moving back to Chicago. But after an outpouring of messages from supporters and patrons, they successfully convinced her to change her mind and stay in Katy.
Over the next five to ten years, White hopes to expand this concept into other communities with the goal of providing more people with a place like Brown Sugar. She would also like to work with local libraries and school districts to get more literature with diverse characters in the hands of children and teens.
"That's what I would like to leave, as my legacy is someone who absolutely loved and adored youth and children and just wanted to empower them as much as I possibly could to go out in the world and be great people," she said. "Every community needs a space like Brown Sugar."
Visit the Brown Sugar Cafe and Books website for more information.
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