Guyana Diaspora

'89 percent of Guyana 's graduate population live and work in the 30 relatively rich countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) -"Fruit that falls far from the tree",
The Economist, 03 November 2005'

It is estimated that there are as many Guyanese living overseas as they are in Guyana
They are spread out far and wide to almost every country on the planet
This blog was created to chronicle the news and and stories of the Diaspora

Monday, January 23, 2006

Store's like your livingroom

"I grew up in Guyana and didn't need that to make me feel good about who I was. Most of the people around me looked like me. But for children growing up in a society where they're not the majority, they need positive images of who they are. It helps with self-esteem and self-confidence. If you don't see yourself represented in books, then you sometimes become invisible."

When you walk into Burke's Books and Picture Framing store on St. Clair Avenue West, the place feels instantly familiar -- even if it's the first time you've ever been in the shop.

There's something about the haphazard way the bookshelves are lined, the casual way the furniture is laid out and the sound of sweet gospel music playing in the background that makes you feel like you're in someone's livingroom, not a bookstore.

It isn't until you get to the back of the store that you're reminded you're in a place of business. That's where Rita Burke and her husband, Sam, can often be found framing pictures in their workshop.

"The first customer we ever had wanted three pieces framed," Sam recalled. "I remember it like it was yesterday."

"Yesterday" was 10 years ago. That's when Rita and her husband decided to quit their day jobs and open a bookstore. "My mother thought I was nuts," Rita said. "You know how parents have a certain vision for their children? Running a bookstore wasn't one my mom had in mind for her daughter."

A lot of Rita's friends also questioned her sanity. Rita was a respected teacher at Sir Sandford Fleming College in Peterborough when she decided to join her husband and open Burke's.

'Time for a change'

"I was enjoying what I was doing, but somehow I felt in my system and in my bones it was time for a change," Rita said. "It was time to try something different."

The Burkes felt there was a need to have more information available about, by and for people of African descent.

"We wanted those books to be available," Rita said. "We wanted people to walk into a central place and see these things, especially children -- picture books with people that looked like them and their parents. We thought that would be wonderful.

"I grew up in Guyana and didn't need that to make me feel good about who I was. Most of the people around me looked like me. But for children growing up in a society where they're not the majority, they need positive images of who they are. It helps with self-esteem and self-confidence. If you don't see yourself represented in books, then you sometimes become invisible."

It wasn't easy in the beginning for the Burkes. They had to learn about the business of books -- selecting the right titles and suppliers, etc. And they had to convince customers of the importance of supporting the bookstore.

"The black community is a very proud community and a very strong community," Rita said. "And they're committed to development. We wanted to be part of that development."

The Burkes got their wish. The bookstore became a gathering place. "People would come in and ask if we knew a plumber," Rita said. Then someone else would ask if we knew a social worker. We were like this bookstore/community centre."

"Many of the people who would come in and ask those questions would then stop by and have a cup of tea and chat. They were no longer customers. They became family."

And it's the family atmosphere at Burke's bookstore that has kept them in business for the past 10 years. Rita said the only regret she has about their decision to open the store was that they didn't do it sooner.

"I like selecting books and putting on events and telling people about Canadian authors who write really well. People like Mairuth Sarsfield and Horane Smith. I also love the fact that we're trying to do something good for the community."

From The Toronto Sun

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