IF you were a teenager in Louisville in the ‘80s and ‘90s and spent any time on the stretch of Bardstown Road in the Highlands, you were familiar with Kente International, the African imports store that Lisa Bennett-Uthman owned and ran with her (now ex-)husband, Musa Uthman. It was the place to go for incense, oils, drums and books. Although the Uthmans closed Kente in the early 2000s, Lisa Bennett-Uthman never lost her entrepreneurial spirit. She has been a staple of the annual Reggae and World Fests here in town, and has even been known to invite customers to her home to shop.
A few years ago, she rebranded to Gye Nyame, and began looking to open a storefront, which finally occurred last month at fifteenTWELVE Creative Compound, 1512 Portland Ave., the site of the original Tim Faulkner Gallery.
Much like Kente International, Gye Nyame is once again a family business, but this time it’s mainly a collective of the women in Bennett-Uthman’s family. When I spoke with Bennett-Uthman, I also spoke with her business partner, Jacy “Prolifi c Jones” Britt, and her daughter, Amina Thompson. Thompson shared memories of growing up playing in Kente International with her siblings and being involved in her parents’ business. “Growing up, my favorite memories as a child is the Reggae Festival and her [Bennett-Uthman] having us run around, selling incense for a dollar. Now we have children, and our children are able to, kind of, live the childhood that we did. So, it’s really important to us, as a family, to keep this going.”
Promoting literacy in the Black community of Louisville is also very important to the women of Gye Nyame, and they stock books that are written by a variety of African authors with an emphasis on African history and children’s literature. They are committed to highlighting work by and for people of the African diaspora, and are excited to be the only Black-owned bookstore in Louisville. For Britt, literacy is important: “I’m a substitute teacher. I’ve been subbing for about 13 years, and what I’ve noticed is that the kids that aren’t able to read or comprehend, are the ones that we usually have a lot of issues — whether it’s being more active in class or real quiet and not saying anything. A lot of times, when you actually focus on that reading comprehension aspect of it, they tend to just blossom.”
When I asked them how Louisville can best support Gye Nyame — beyond the obvious spending money in the store — they all said to attend the community events they’re planning in the space at fifteenTWELVE. They are planning events for all ages, like Black History Trivia Night, story times, poetry readings, and more. The goal is to be able to eventually grow out of the Portland space and move Gye Nyame to the West End and into a building that they can restore.
The next two events at Gye Nyame are a book signing of “Sincerely, DuWaup” from the author, Kimberly “DuWaup” Bolden on Aug. 28 at the store, and a special screening of “The Woman King” at Xscape Theatres Blankenbaker 16 on Sept. 13th. Tickets are available at gyenyamebooks502.info. •
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