Meet Onikah Asamoa-Caesar: Building a Brighter Future
Onikah Asamoa-Caesar was a voracious reader growing up and dreamed of one day opening a bookstore. That dream became reality when she opened Fulton Street Books and Coffee a little over a year ago.
Onikah’s clear focus on building community and developing relationships is the foundation of this bookstore, and its supporting pillars include a strong mission of representing diversity and building literacy across generations. Fulton Street centers around the stories, narratives and lived experiences of Black people, people of color, and marginalized communities.
In addition to her entrepreneurial role, Onikah is also experiencing the joys of motherhood with her 18-month-old daughter, Hadassah. In fact, her daughter is frequently alongside her mom at Fulton Street – which brings both tremendous joy! And although the business and her daughter are still in their infancy, everyone is growing and learning together with their sights set on a better, brighter future for Tulsa.
TK: Tell us a little about yourself.
Onikah: I am a new mom. I had my first child at the beginning of the pandemic; she’s now 18 months old. I am also the owner and founder of Fulton Street Books and Coffee; we opened three months postpartum in June. I also work for the George Kaiser Family Foundation as a Program Coordinator.
TK: Coffee and books are two of my favorite things! Can you share why you decided to open a bookstore and coffee shop?
Onikah: My dream was always about being a bookstore owner. I’ve always loved books – they have been adventure for me, an escape for me, and windows into other worlds – and as an adult I still love books! As a child, I had access to a lot of diverse books. When I moved to Tulsa as a Teach for America Corp teacher, my first-grade students weren’t excited about reading. As someone who was so in love with books, I wanted to understand why they didn’t feel the same. I realized that the literature I was presenting them was a world where they did not exist. The stories did not reflect their lives or culture. I quickly went about diversifying my library. Sharing these new books transformed our classroom culture and reading time. The students were excited to read! Knowing that pain point as a teacher, I wanted to open a bookstore that provided diverse representation.
When it came down to business planning – independent bookstores were closing every day – I took that information and found a way to build something else into the plan that people could enjoy, too – coffee! Coffee shops can be community centers and community hubs. It has enhanced our space – people are enjoying both.
TK: Can you share the mission of Fulton Street Books?
Onikah: Bookstores in the Black community are only second in importance to the Black church. We have a mission of building community – and our physical location is in the middle of a neighborhood – and also increasing intergenerational literacy.
TK: Can you share what your bookstore offers in terms of representation?
Onikah: A pain point for book lovers, parents and educators alike is finding and accessing literature that represents a real and diverse array of identities and lived experiences. At Fulton Street, at least 70 percent of our books are written by or feature BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and/or marginalized communities. We believe that representation matters.
TK: You share a Tulsa Fact on your website that calls attention to literacy. Can you share how you are working to help increase literacy?
Onikah: We are building a space in which we can all get the most from meaningful learning opportunities. There are so many other ways, besides books, that we take in information – cinema, music and poetry – we are providing experiences for everyone. We believe that literacy is a tool for liberation. We cannot chart a future for ourselves if we are not armed with knowledge of our past and how that has formed our present. We use literacy as a tool to empower people with the knowledge to make better choices about themselves, their lives and their futures.
TK: Is there something that Fulton Street Books has specifically for kids?
Onikah: We offer a Little and Lit Subscription Box with two curated books arriving monthly. Books are great for the whole family and specifically target prekindergarten through third grade. This is an excellent way for families to ensure their kids have very diverse bookshelves. Books are one of the first opportunities to see a world that they are not readily surrounded by.
TK: Your website refers to the Tulsa Equality Indicators Report, noting that when compared with white Tulsans, Black Tulsans are three times more likely to find it difficult to access resources, activities and opportunities in Tulsa. How are you working to make everyone in the community feel welcome?
Onikah: A lot of the way in which we do community is different – a lot of kids are living with grandparents or aunts, and the family is a little more communal, with many family members living together – I wanted to open a space that was centered around people of color and marginalized communities. I wanted these communities to have a space where they felt welcomed and help push conversations in Tulsa and hopefully nationwide. We’re building relationships while discussing issues of race and identity – infusing our learning experiences through the lens of the whole person.
TK: In the Centennial year of the Tulsa Race Massacre, how is Fulton Street serving as a space for civic discourse?
Onikah: This has been a heavy year for a lot of folks in Tulsa because we know the rich legacy that was, and we know the way in which that legacy was interrupted. First, it was a very violent destruction, and the second destruction of Black Wall Street in Greenwood was very policy driven; it was very race silent, but not race neutral.
A lot of folks are really excited about being part of the third wave of the resurrection of the spirit of Greenwood and being young Black Entrepreneurs in Tulsa. I think a lot of us are looking at the horizon to figure out what’s next, considering if are we creating an environment in which our community of entrepreneurs is going to be able to thrive or not.
This year, one thing we are trying to do is amplify the voices of other Black entrepreneurs through Buy Black Tulsa, a guide we created in partnership with United Way, YWCA, Goldmill, QuikTrip, TulsaPeople and Fulton Street Books and Coffee. This allows people the opportunity to support through their dollars. We all have a level of personal responsibility both in acknowledging, commemorating and building a Tulsa that is starting to right some of those wrongs.
TK: What is one unique offering of Fulton Street Books for adults?
Onikah: Fulton Street hosts a book club called Syllabus. We read a book but also supplement that with experiences, speakers and deeper conversations. When we are talking about issues like race and identity, I think there is a gap between that theoretical thinking and our practice, considering the way you show up in the world based on what you’re learning. In Syllabus, we’re going to have some real-life experiences and realize how it impacts people on a day-to-day basis.
TK: Owning a business is a lot of work, can you share what you do to unplug?
Onikah: One of things that the pandemic exposed is the extent that we work and don’t take rest. I have discovered The Nap Ministry (@thenapministry on Instagram) and am now taking more naps! I’m not resting so I can produce more, I’m resting to rest. It’s necessary for my own preservation and survival, and I want to be fully present for my daughter!
TK: What’s one thing you are passionate about right now?
Onikah: I’m passionate about being a mom! Mothering is entwined in everything I do, and I love it! I’m really excited to be Hadassah’s mom and to have an opportunity to raise a young, free, Black child in this country!
To find out more about Fulton Street Books visit them at 210 W. Latimer Street or online at: fultonstreet918.com, Instagram: @fultonstreet918 and Facebook: Fulton Street Books and Coffee. For a printable PDF version of the Buy Black Tulsa guide, visit: buyblacktulsa.com.
To listen to the full interview with Onikah Asamoa-Caesar, including bonus content that includes what is currently on her nightstand and the current activities of the Fulton Street Book Club, check out the Sharing Passion and Purpose Podcast at SharingPassionandPurpose.com or on your favorite podcasting app.