|DeAndra Beard (center) at the ribbon-cutting for Beyond Barcodes
"The overall mission of this space is common language, common ground, close knit community," said DeAndra Beard, owner of Beyond Barcodes Bookstore in Kokomo, Ind. The bookstore is part of a larger space in downtown Kokomo called Beyond Borders, also owned by Beard, that includes Bind Cafe and Beyond Borders Language Learning center. "Everything we do is to create this common ground, to make everybody in the community feel like this is their space."
Beyond Borders opened near the end of 2014 and initially shared the space with an educational toy store. After the toy store owners--who also happen to be the landlords--retired, Beard decided to expand Beyond Borders by adding the bookstore and cafe in early 2016. Now, Beard is looking to buy the building and is turning to her community for help: she has 60 days to go on a crowdfunding campaign on Fundable.com, with a goal of $40,000.
"We're in a wonderfully difficult position," Beard said, explaining that though she has the full support of the building's owners, the difficulty is raising enough capital. The theme of her crowdfunding campaign is "cultivating roots in the community," and she is depending on her community "to partner with us, to help us become a permanent fixture here."
Beyond Barcodes sells all new books with a multicultural focus. Beard estimated that about 80%-85% of the titles in store are "by and about people of color from around the world." The store carries fiction, nonfiction, young adult and children's titles, with a broad theme of social justice, human rights, family and "good stories." There are also resource books and materials for educators and activists. The store hosts frequent book-related events, including writing workshops and signings with local writers of color, and many nonbook events as well. There have been multicultural dance classes, plenty of live music and, starting last summer, town hall meetings that, according to Beard, have put the store "on the map." The town hall series, called We the People, offers a public forum for community members to discuss local and national issues, often about race and racial reconciliation.
"For a town that has never had a public forum and has had this historic blight, it has been amazing," said Beard. "That series of conversations has been huge for us."
The cafe, which shares one large, open space with the bookstore, offers a full breakfast and lunch menu along with coffee, tea and pastries, and every month the menu focuses on a type of cuisine from a different region or country. Last October, the cafe's focus was Mexican; in November, it was Colombian; in December, the cafe served Indian; in January, the food was German. Tis month's menu features a pan-Caribbean theme, with Beard planning to focus on specific Caribbean countries in the future. And though it is not yet open, Beard plans to turn the building's second floor into a bed and breakfast called Urban Oasis, with the breakfasts coming from Bind Cafe. The language learning center, meanwhile, is separated from the cafe and bookstore, and has grown to offer courses in Spanish, Portuguese, American Sign Language, English as a Second Language and French. Classes meet twice per week for a 10-week period, and there are six language instructors.
Before she opened Beyond Barcodes, Beard spent seven years as a middle school Spanish teacher. She grew up in Kokomo and became a teacher after living elsewhere for a time. She realized from watching her students and listening to the things they said that Kokomo was still deeply divided, much as it had been while she was growing up. Her students' behavior was a "microcosm of what's happening in the greater community," and her decision to open the language learning center came after she realized that she needed to "get out of the school to get into the community."
Her students "really reflected the thoughts and attitudes of the community I live in," recalled Beard. "It was sad to see some of the same things and racial attitudes [as when I grew up]."
Beard has a deep connection to the building, beyond her time owning and operating a business there: around 60 years ago, her father was a janitor in the building next door. He worked in that building for 10 years, alongside Beard's grandfather and several other family members, until he graduated from high school.
"As a black family in this community, we have the opportunity to go from janitors to building owners in one generation," said Beard. "I'm working hard to make it happen." --Alex Mutter