CNS Women’s Month Series: Rooted MKE Supplies the Community with Access to Books From Black and Brown Creators

This article is a part of the Carvd N Stone 2024 Women’s Month Series. We are highlighting a woman-owned business from Milwaukee, Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, and Los Angeles.

Owner Ashley Valentine working with students of Rooted MKE. (Picture by Amanda Evans )
Owner Ashley Valentine working with students of Rooted MKE. (Picture by Amanda Evans )

A Love Letter to Milwaukee Youth

Educator Ashley Valentine is working to close the gaps in representation for Black and Brown Milwaukee students in the literary and academic realm with Rooted MKE. Valentine has taken her experiences as a Milwaukee Public Schools special education teacher and leading stem programming for the Boys and Girls Club, along with her Master’s in exceptional education and reading-undergraduate degree in Sociology to fulfill her dream of supporting her community to learn and grow together.

Rooted MKE is a bookstore, maker space, and academic tutoring service that caters to BIPOC children and families in their academic journey. In 2020, Valentine followed her heart and started the academic tutoring service to provide Black and Brown students a space where they could learn from authority figures who looked like them and understood the cultural nuances that are important to their education. 

“Rooted is essentially a love letter for the youth in my city. It’s me saying I see you and I recognize you and I want to make a safe space for you and I want you to be here and I want to be here for you.”

– Ashley Valentine

All-Inclusive Education

The bookstore, located on Vliet St. in Milwaukee, opened its doors in March 2021 to give Black and Brown youth access to positive reflections of themselves through a curated selection of books and provide families a gathering space to fuel literacy advancement and learning. The store holds selections from various publishing houses including the Penguin Random House and Harper Collins. 

Rooted MKE combats gaps in the representation of Black and Brown authors and illustrators by sourcing titles from independent publishing houses and local writers

“Kids are able to comprehend information easier and efficiently when they feel comfortable and confident and some of that is in who is presenting the information, in their tone and their demeanor,” said Valentine. 

Rooted in the Community 

Rooted MKE runs a non-profit called Rooted in Community to find funding and donors interested in keeping the longevity of the community-based work, activities, and events run by the organization going.

Valentine eventually wants to create a fellowship program pipeline that will pay and train individuals interested in being a reading tutor. The program will not require an education background and it will be open to anyone committed to making a change in Milwaukee. The fellowship will help bring free tutoring sessions for Rooted MKE students. 

“Anyone with the desire to do something that uplifts their community. It doesn’t have to be a bookstore, it doesn’t have to be this big thing with a lot of personal and financial investment,” said Valentine. “When you’re committed to seeing your city and the people in your city be well it’s as small as planting a seed.”

Rooted MKE also offers an array of public events including Saturday Mornings: Layla in the Loop where families are invited to enjoy an episode of the PBS Kids show “Layla in the Loop” in their pajamas featuring a cereal bar followed by a storytime reflecting on the episode’s theme. 

Valentine expressed her gratitude towards the community which supported her store in times of need. She mentioned that this support motivated her to continue growing her business. She also shared her intention to organize a book fair named “Bookchella” in the future to connect with more students and families by providing inclusive literature.

Maria Peralta-Arellano is a Milwaukee-native journalist who focuses on sharing news from her local communities. She dedicates her work to accessibility and producing bilingual coverage focused on arts, culture, and politics. She looks to explore her community through a journalistic and creative lens.

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