by Charles “Talib” Brooks
A loud thunderstorm swept through the city of San Francisco on that early morning in February 2010.
As I drove our little red Nissan towards Marcus Book Store, my fiancé sat in the passenger seat, flipping through the pages of one of my “Mr. President Educational Coloring Books” that we intended to sell.
“How many copies do you think they will buy?” she asked over the sounds of raindrops pelting down against our little red bucket.
“I don’t know,” I shrugged,” but we’ll negotiate for at least 20,” I replied, exiting the freeway.
Ameena reached over and turned on the radio. “It’s the God in me,” she sang along to a gospel song as I made a right turn on Fillmore Street.
The rain stopped and the clouds parted, allowing the sun to beam down on Marcus Book Store the moment we pulled up. “That’s a good sign,” Ameena said as we entered the store.
A funny but true miracle occurred once we were inside negotiating with Karen and her daughter Tamika Johnson.
“I really like the educational value and great artwork,” Karen said. “But after nearly two years in office, I’m not sure the book would sell,” she stated.
Suddenly, as if by God’s design, in came about 30 age-appropriate children with several teachers in tow.
Raising my book into the air, Ameena yells out, “Who wants a Mr. President Educational Coloring Book?”
The children, seeing Obama’s face on the cover, went crazy, running up to her screaming, “I do!” “I do!” “I do!” Their excitement about the book turned into a 30-minute impromptu book signing.
The spacious and warm ambiance combined with the gracious hospitality of Marcus Book Store owners provided the perfect atmosphere. Tears of joy freely fell down my face as I signed books, writing, “Stay in school” “Listen to your parents” and “Dream big!” with the love of my life sitting by my side.
“You have come a long way since being that illiterate prisoner,” Ameena smiled and consoled me, wiping away my tears.
I was 23 years old and sitting in the San Francisco County Jail when I read my first book. Ironically, that small life-changing book, entitled, “Bilal ibn Rahbah” was purchased from Marcus Book Store over 23 years ago. Kareema, the woman who purchased the book, in 1990, was a deputy for the San Francisco County Jail, where I resided.
Twenty years later, when I came home, I was destined to meet, fall in love and marry Ameena, the daughter of the deputy who loaned me that book. Besides her radiant beauty and smile, I was drawn to the golden Ka’bah image that she wore around her neck. In the first book I ever read, Bilal stood on top of the Ka’bah, deemed the first house of worship, to call people to Islamic prayer.
Ameena, knowing my struggles from illiteracy to obtaining my GED and becoming an author and a journalist while incarcerated, began to cry too. She knew that only Allah could have planned all the events that transformed my life and brought us together. She also knew, by several other mind-blowing signs from Allah, that every love poem I have written in my “Dreams of Ameena” collections are all true. Our experience together in Marcus Books on that early morning of 2010 was yet more confirmation to a blessed union.
As I sat there, a former illiterate prisoner signing books that I, by the grace of God, wrote about our first African American president, it all seemed so surreal to me.
As the kids and teachers uttered praise for their copy of “Mr. President Educational Coloring Book,” Ameena and I wiped away our tears and replaced them with knowing smiles. That day, we gave away and sold a combined 60 books while inside Marcus Book Store. Needless to say Marcus Books, who provided the perfect atmosphere for my impromptu book signing, was the first to grace its shelves with my – Mr. President Educational Coloring Book. The reputable endorsements by Marcus Books also opened many other doors for us as noted in my Kiva.org story and multiple awards.
Now, as I read from the July 2013 issue of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, Marcus Books is in trouble. I would be remiss not to speak up and help prevent this beautiful and beloved landmark from imminent eviction. Hence, I am sending a letter to the president of these United States plus sharing my Marcus Books love story with all.
Please help save Marcus Books, located at 1712 Fillmore St. in San Francisco. Perhaps this nation’s historic African American First Family could visit and/or help save this nation’s first, much needed, culturally affirming and oldest Black book store in the U.S. That I am sure would be highly welcomed and appreciated by all.
May God’s blessings be upon you and all who have lifted their voices, dollars and/or prayers to help save Marcus Book Store.
As-Salaamu-Alaikum (Peace be unto you.)
Charles H. Brooks, spiritually known as Talib Hasan Mustafa, is a father of four young adults, including two U.S. Navy men, and grandfather of five. He enjoys reading, writing and helping others. Currently incarcerated for a violation of parole, he is a journalist for San Quentin News and can be reached at Charles Brooks, E-90514, San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin 94974.