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Rutgers alumni open Hidden Gems Literary Emporium, first family-of-color-owned bookstore in New Brunswick

Hidden Gems Literary Emporium, owned by Rutgers alumni Kaila Boulware and Raymond Cheley Sykes and their son Truth Imanu'el Sykes, will hold its grand opening on June 6 on Morris Street with performances, book displays and more. – Photo by Courtesy of Kaila Boulware

Two Rutgers alumni are opening Hidden Gems Literary Emporium on June 6, the first of-color, family-owned bookstore in New Brunswick.

The bookstore will feature author Lattifa Bryant and tap dancer Omar Edwards, among other creatives, during its grand opening, said co-owner Kaila Boulware. It will take place on Morris Street with in-store and outdoor events from 3 to 6 p.m.

Boulware said Hidden Gems seeks primarily to promote literacy by getting books in the hands of the New Brunswick community, and said literacy programs are not as supported as they should be despite their importance.

Co-owner Raymond Cheley Sykes said Hidden Gems also strives to help patrons expand their personal libraries without high prices. He said antique, historical books required for classes are often costly and hopes to work with the Rutgers community to provide such books at low or no cost.

“Whether you have 100 dollars in your pocket, or whether you have one dollar in your pocket, or maybe you don't have any money, you can come to our store and walk away with something,” Boulware said.

Along with increasing accessibility to books, Boulware said Hidden Gems aims to encourage adults and children alike to put down devices, engage with books and grow their imaginations. One of the first things she and Sykes gave to their son, Truth Imanu'el Sykes, was a book to encourage him to read.

“He's only one (year) old, but he's very much a part of this effort,” Boulware said. “He's in the store with us pushing little shelves around and taking books off the shelf and putting them back. And he is as much a part of this as (Sykes) and myself.”

During the event and the week after, the couple hopes to give away donated books and stuffed toys that they have collected over the past month with the hope of eventually giving away 1,000 books every month, Boulware said.

Hidden Gems will hold additional events and classes in the near future, including a program on July 11 named “Stand for Truth through Music and Arts: Addressing Prejudice Through Love and Overstanding,” which aims to bring people together despite their differences, Boulware said.

“Now is the time for us all, all people of all colors … to put our differences aside, come together through love and understanding and do what we need to do to uplift our communities, and more importantly, our children,” she said.

Sykes said literature offers a channel of connection between different people, allowing them to read about one another’s culture, nuances and personalities.

“It is through literacy, through books that you can sit down and delve into the mind of another individual, and see that that person is a human,” he said. “Through reading, through literacy, through overstanding each other, we can get closer together as a people.”

Those interested in attending the event can register online.

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