Katrina Brooks was born in Chicago, where her grandparents and their families settled after leaving the Deep South during the Great Migration. families came from Alabama & Mississippi. Her grandmothers encouraged her strength of mind and heart through their examples. Her maternal grandfather instilled in the family the importance of education. He only completed the 8th grade before he needed to tend the fields to help out.
Katrina and Eric are both graduates of Clark Atlanta University, a historically Black institution in Georgia. They moved to Dallas for grad school, and both received MBAs from the University of Texas at Dallas. They moved to Austin four years ago and decided to make the city home. But Katrina, whose background is in public relations and marketing, and Eric, a seasoned executive in land acquisition, wanted to do more for the community.
She noticed that though there were other indie book stores in town, none specifically focused on diversity and inclusion, or intentionally focused on highlighting the stories of every community member. Inspired by her own children, Brooks and her husband decided to become a resource for other children of color to find stories that reflected their experiences.
Their children, Elijah (14) and Elisha (13), have been a source of joy, inspiration, and motivation, Katrina says. But she often found herself searching for books they could relate to. Elijah’s love of books inspired indie bookstore visits on family vacations. Last summer, during a trip to Washington, D.C., they visited a Black-owned bookstore, and a spark was ignited for Katrina.
And so Black Pearl Books started with “pop-up” events in the fall of 2019, with a goal “to promote diversity, inclusion, equality, and cultural awareness,” according to their website. The family chose books that speak to promote self-love through representation, empathy through relatable stories, and a variety of interests to broaden one’s knowledge. In a world that is trying to erase history and de-emphasize diversity, consciousness is paramount. Selling books is the bread & butter of the business, but the mission remains centered around the content.
The coronavirus tested their adaptability. Online orders replaced “pop-ups,” and virtual book fairs were created as a service to help schools raise money. The couple had turned their home’s garage into a makeshift warehouse, and their focus became on finding ways to continue to build community virtually.
Then, during the summer of 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement was re-ignited, and business took off. They found themselves inundated with orders as cries to support Black-owned businesses brought extra attention to Black Pearl Books. They wondered briefly if it was a fluke, but learned it was not; the power of social media had brought an influx of new customers wanting more diverse reading material. They scrambled to fulfill orders as soon as the shipments arrived and learned to optimize the space in their garage until they could find more space.
They just recently began subletting space in Ten Thousand Villages, a nonprofit, fair-trade gift shop. Now they’re able to do more. Due to safety concerns, author readings are still on Zoom and author signing events have been limited. But the energy in the space is welcoming and the family’s warmth can be felt by visitors.
Eric currently serves as the store’s director of operations, after taking a “leap of faith” and leaving his corporate job to support the family business and help fortify his family’s legacy.
I visited them before my order was ready, to further my research. Located in the back of the large gift shop, past the black doorway, is Black Pearl Books. The books and merchandise are for “2 and under” to “12 and older,” with something for everyone: creative, “weird,” conscious, analytical. I had purchased a book when Mr. Eric Brooks noticed I had an order for pick-up. He made sure to give me an update on it before I left.
Universally as a customer, I care about the quality of service, pricing, and transparency. I make an extra effort to find Black-owned businesses, and it’s a plus when the business supports the community as well. Black Pearl Books hits all of the marks. It’s a place for writers, readers and artists. A place where Black children and adults can find stories that affirm them and their experiences, and where others can come to learn about diverse cultures.
Black Pearl Books is located at 4893 Burnet Road inside Ten Thousand Villages and is open Monday – Friday from 12pm-5pm and most Saturdays. Closed on Sundays. Feel free to call 512-902-9717 before heading over.