West Philly bookstore aims to uplift Haitian community with discussion, fundraiser

Hakim’s Bookstore is hosting a discussion and fundraiser Oct. 30 centering on Haiti.

Hakim’s Bookstore, a staple on 52nd Street in West Philadelphia, plans to delve into the complexity of Haiti — a nation racked by recent crises — later this month and wants to hear from the community.

“Haiti at Hakim’s” will seek to understand the country’s challenges while uplifting Haitian voices and raising money, organizers said. Tickets are on sale now for the gathering, which will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 30.

Chris Arnold, the store’s community engagement specialist, and Wen-kuni Ceant, co-founder of Politicking, a Washington D.C.-based app aimed at boosting civic participation among millennials, will host a roundtable discussion.

The family-friendly event will spotlight Haitian authors, and Hakim’s plans to organize contests and offer Haitian food.

“We’re just trying to add a human nuance to some of the commentary that’s going on around Haiti as a country, as a political matter, as a place that’s recovering from a natural disaster,” Arnold told Metro.

Community engagement specialist Chris Arnold poses for a photo with Hakim’s Bookstore owner Yvonne Blake.PHOTO: Provided

In just the last few months, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated; a major earthquake devastated parts of the island; and chaotic scenes have emerged from the U.S.-Mexico border of Haitian migrants attempting to enter the country.

Most recently, there have been concerns about the growing presence of gang violence and kidnappings. Seventeen Christian missionaries were taken for ransom this past weekend.

“We want to help people to understand the issues that led up to Haiti being in the predicament that it is in now,” said Ceant, whose start-up is co-hosting the Oct. 30 event.

Ceant, a Haitian American who spent time on the island growing up, has been closely watching developments in Haiti and writing about the situation for TheGrio, a national media outlet that targets a Black audience.

“The fact that people don’t hear about the positive aspects of Haiti and only hear about Haiti when there’s turmoil or tragedy is doing a disservice to the country,” Ceant said.

“If you think about the last time people heard about Haiti this much, it was in 2010 during the earthquake,” she added. “That should not happen.”

Ceant’s connection with Hakim’s started when she met Arnold while studying for her master’s degree at Drexel University. They hosted a presidential debate watch party at the store in 2020 before the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Dawud Hakim opened Hakim’s in 1959, making it the oldest Black-owned bookstore in Philadelphia and possibly the East Coast. It focuses on African American history and culture and is run by Hakim’s daughter Yvonne Blake.

Proceeds from the Oct. 30 fundraiser will go toward the National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians, also known as NOAH New York, which provides medical care to those in need.

Admission for “Haiti at Hakim’s” cost $25. For more information, go to www.eventbrite.com/e/haiti-at-hakims-tickets-185081743477.