On Saturday, Aug. 22, a book drive will take place at Grassroots Books on Grove Street from 4 to 8 p.m. to benefit a new project whose creators are calling it “Reno’s first Black Wall Street” in honor of the successful Black community of Tulsa, Oklahoma that was decimated nearly 100 years ago during the Tulsa, Oklahoma Race Massacre of 1921.
Reno residents Donald Griffin and RoMar “T-Wizdom” Tolliver are seeking book donations for the Black youth center they’re opening on South Wells Avenue.
“We conceived of the idea when we was trying to structure some type of platform for the community,” Griffin said. “And just doing our history, we thought about the Black Wall Street, how they all developed business. You had your local hair shop, getting your hair cut. We had all our own grocery stores, we done for ourselves…We went from there and developed the idea of the Black Wall Street—the first Black Wall Street of Reno, Nevada.”
According to Tolliver, a main focus of the youth center will be reading programs.
“Out of the youth center—we’re basically a community resource center, so to speak—first and foremost is the literacy program, trying to inspire Reno to read,” Tolliver said. “There’ll be a couple of different age groups—elementary school, middle school, high school-types of age groups. And we’ll just encourage reading, so many hours logged of reading per month. Whoever has the most hours logged wins a monthly incentive prize, whatever it may be.”
Tolliver and Griffin are looking to stock the youth center with books written by independent, Black and women authors.
“There’s a lot of Black authors and Black books that don’t get circulated in Barnes and Noble and the mainstream outlets,” Tolliver said. “So, we want to host and cater to those kinds of books, but also some health books, financial books, personal development books—things that inspire growth, learning and change. That’s what we need in the community.”
“And legal books,” Griffin added. “That’s where I’m going with it, as far as learning how to buy property, learning how to budget your money, something they’re not teaching us in school. And by the time you’re 40, you don’t know what’s going on—either because you didn’t listen to the advice or it wasn’t there to be given.”
While the Reno Black Wall Street program will also cater to adults, with book clubs for men and women, a large part of its goal is to foster learning and encourage entrepreneurship among Reno’s younger Black people in the hopes they’ll stay in the community after they’ve attained success.
“We take all of our money and want to move out to a different neighborhood,” Griffin said. “‘Oh, look at me. I’m the only Black man in this neighborhood.’ Yeah, we’re glad you made it out—but you were supposed to take that education and bring it back and show us how to do this next step. It’s good you became a doctor, but open your doctor’s business in the same neighborhood you just tried to run out of. Bring the money back. Let the money exchange hands in Black Wall Street.”
Tolliver said he thinks the timing of the project is “divine.”
“Think about the percentage of the Black population in Reno—and then think the percentage of business owners is even smaller than that; the percentage of homeowners is even smaller than that,” he said. “So, do you know what I mean? Yeah, this is a crucial turning point.”
The two are hoping recent community attention to the issues central to the Black Lives Matter movement will carry over to their project.
“I think by the things that have been filmed earlier this year and what has happened in America—I believe that anything with Black involved in it, they want to take a notice to it,” Griffin said. “And Reno is small enough that they want to know what Black people are doing in Reno. We’re a small percent, but God forbid if that small percent do come together and start networking and building—because that small percent can [become] a big percentage in this game that I call ‘Monopoly.’”
Tolliver and Griffin said the opening of the youth center has been delayed by COVID-19, but they are hoping to open its doors by late September and celebrate with a community event featuring a local artist and food truck.
“I’m so tired of talking about what we used to have—and Black History Month,” Griffin said. “We stuck in Black History Month, and we can’t move forward. And we only proud to be Black for a month—and then it’s like, ‘No, no, I’m done with Black History. I’m about to show you what it’s about to be.’
“I’m done talking about it because it’s past tense, you know? Malcom and Martin and the rest of the Black leaders gave us a blueprint, and now we about to build it. And I can’t make it any simpler than that…Do you think we going to do it? Yeah, we going to do it.”
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.