For the first time since its inception in 2017, the Hyde Park-based nonprofit Brown Books & Paint Brushes has a storefront activity center to further its mission of educating young children on African-American culture and healthy racial identity through art, literacy, social justice and civic engagement programming.
Located at 1900 E 71st St. in South Shore, the Brown Books & Paint Brushes free activity center is the first of its kind in the neighborhood. The space, which opened earlier this month, is geared towards kids ages 3-10. The open play-based space includes a movie theater, STEM room, dramatic play area, gross motor room, free Black children’s library and diverse young adult library, and more.
Brown Books & Paint Brushes is part of the Storefront Activation Hub at 1900-1912 E. 71st Street. The short-term project is sponsored by the South Shore Chamber and the City of Chicago’s Storefront Activation Program, which helped to activate a storefront that was vacant for over 10 years and has helped to bring vibrancy and life back to the 71st Street corridor.
Chicago’s Business Affairs and Consumer Protection created this grant program to help create temporary pop-ups and art installations in underserved communities.
Brown Books & Paint Brushes Founder Candice Washington said the space, which is slated to remain open at least through April, serves the community’s children with many important lessons and benefits.
“This is a one-of-a-kind culturally affirming play space for children,” says Washington. “This type of space allows them to explore their own culture and identity in a space that’s free and nurturing. This creates a sense of belonging, and helps with social-emotional needs.”
Washington, who grew up in Englewood, was inspired to start Brown Books & Paint Brushes when she was an educator of a classroom of 3-year-olds of more than 13 different nationalities. It was then she realized it would be meaningful to create a culture of learning and understanding among her students. So, she began offering literacy and music pop up events wherever she could find space, as she believes literacy is the best pathway to learning.
The nonprofit grew in popularity seemingly overnight in 2020 during the Black Lives Matter Movement. In response to the racial tension, Washington launched a Free Black Children’s Library Pop-Up Series in various neighborhoods throughout the city to provide hundreds of kids with free children’s books featuring Black authors and illustrators.
“The Black Lives Matter Movement had a powerful and positive effect on young children,” she says. “It helped to raise awareness of the issues of racial inequality and injustice that disproportionately affect the people of color because it wasn’t being hid from children. As a result, it has encouraged young people to become more engaged in social issues and to speak out for justice and against racism.”
Washington says that it has been her honor to run Brown Books & Paint Brushes, which she is thrilled to see grow now into a temporary physical space.
“Bring all of your children,” she says. “Children from different colors and from different races. When we learn together, we understand each other better.”
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