The Citizen Spotlight is a project I started with the Oklahoma Gazette. In each issue, we highlight a person in our community who stands out for their leadership, kindness, and good deeds. Read it on the Oklahoma Gazette website here.
Camille Landry of Nappy Roots Books
Words are powerful, and no one understands that quite like Camille Landry. A voracious reader, her love of literature carried her long through childhood and adulthood, and it’s through the power of words that she serves her community.
A writer, artist, activist, and social justice advocate, Landry helps people find and share their voices through literacy, art, and community. She does so much that when I ask her about what all she is involved in, she laughs.
“Whatever comes across my ever-loving mind, and that is a true answer. I’m retired, and I’m not trying to make money off any of this; there is no money to be made off of any of this. So I do whatever catches my fancy,” Landry said. “Nappy Roots is a bookstore, but it’s also a community; it’s a place where people can come together and talk about all the issues that impact us. Like why aren’t there any textbooks in our classrooms? This is a place where folks even from outside the community can come that don’t have another place.”
She opened Nappy Roots Books in 2017 after retiring from a career in IT. She’d long been working in social justice advocacy as a writer with the Oklahoma Policy Institute but wanted to create a space for community and educational enrichment. The business was one of the first to enter into the space of Black Wall Street Marketplace, starting in a small space with books provided by Camille herself. Now in a larger space at 3705 Springlake Drive, Nappy Roots is still the only bookstore in northeast Oklahoma City, and it does far more than just sell books.
The space hosts writers, artists, workshops, discussion groups, festivals, and more. Twice a week they offer academic enrichment sessions. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Landry would see as many as 50 students using this time to help with assignments, ACT test preparation, college, and trade school applications, and simply study. Though the pandemic has forced some things to slow, the space is vital for students in an area where schools often lack funding for textbooks and other necessary school resources.
She believes that literature connects us, and bookstores are a vital part of our communities. During these times of political and social turmoil, literacy is what ultimately creates change.
“How do you know what you don’t know? You can’t know what you don’t know. It’s the great unknown. So our world, on the one hand, is expanding like crazy. On the other hand, people live in their own little bubbles, and we’ve become so siloed and defensive. So that’s part of what we really tried to do is break down some of those barriers, which can happen best with a book. I think I might be a little bit biased, but a book is how you get inside someone else’s head. How else do you do that? Through all kinds of art. It could be a novel. It can be poetry. It could be nonfiction. It can be a play. It could be a piece of visual art. But this is how you find out what’s going on in somebody else’s internal landscape and what their reality is. Absent that kind of information, we’re all poor. We’re all fractionated, fragmented, and at odds with each other, and we’re not working on the things that are important. We’re just letting it go by the wayside because we’re so caught up in the crazy. We have to change this. Because I believe that knowledge is power, this is why having bookstores are important; it’s crucial to have access to information and that exchange of ideas.”
When looking towards the future, Landry would like to see the space grow and be able to host more workshops and events that empower, enrich and connect the community.
“We need a place where art and literature can come together, and I would love to make that happen. There are so many things that we can do, in addition to the informational programs and academic enrichment programs we already do. I would love to have enough space where we could have a theater group performing in one room, dance going on in another, and someone is throwing a pot on a wheel in yet another room. We’ve got people meeting to figure out issues of police brutality and how to respond to that. All of these things need to happen. They are all equally important. So that’s what I’d like to do and what I’m pushing towards. And all of these things can happen. This area really needs something like this, and I’m working on that. It’s out there.”
It’s not just Nappy Roots Books that keeps Camille busy; she spends her time serving our communities in a number of areas from art, education and social justice, to saving the planet.
“I’m involved with Black Lives Matter. And I’m involved with some of the organizations or things that we’ve started, like the Northeast Coalition on Homelessness and Moms Demand Action On Gunsense, which is a national organization. I’m involved with a number of local activist groups working on everything from schools to the environment and definitely with the arts. I do NaNoWriMo every year but have yet to publish the great American novel.”
Throughout the year you’ll find her hosting a variety of community events from art and community discussion during her recent On The Shoulders of Giants project with Skip Hill at the Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center, to an intimate evening of vibrant music, art, and poetry in the Nappy Roots Books parking lot.
“Doing those kinds of things is really important. It’s important for the kids; it’s important for the community, it’s important that the history not be lost as important, that people find their voices, and figure out how to come together because one person shouting makes a little bit of noise. But a thousand people shouting makes a war. It becomes hard to ignore. So that’s what we’re trying to be.”
Find out more about Nappy Roots Books visit NappyRootsBooks.com.