Walk and Talk

O ne day in the 5th grade, Beatrice “Bea” Dozier Taylor was walking to school, “very much a troubled spirit,” when she says she heard God’s voice ask her what was wrong.

A self-confessed smart aleck, Taylor replied, “What? You don’t know?”

In class, Taylor had been learning about Italian, Polish and French history—all of which she loved. But when she skipped ahead in the reading to find what would be taught about African history—her own heritage—she discovered only the legacy of slavery.

She continued her complaint to God: “They’re talking about African people and they’re saying we come from the jungle.” Then Taylor says she saw a vision in which the garden of Eden and “the jungle” sat next to one another, and she came to the realization they were one and the same.

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“They say that Africans run around naked,” she continued. Then she thought maybe they’re naked because they haven’t sinned.

That heavenly chat was one of the early watershed moments of Taylor’s life, and though she didn’t’ know it yet, it foreshadowed her life as a social activist, orator and owner of A Walk in Truth bookstore on Edgewood Avenue. Specializing in Christian and also black texts, the bookstore rose out of the belief that the school curriculum she and other black children were being taught did too little to raise their esteem and pride.

“My ancestors were not slaves,” Taylor says. “They were enslaved.”

That emphasis on victimization, not victimhood, may seem slight, but it makes all the difference to Taylor, and it led her to explore questions relating to who her ancestors were before they were enslaved.

On the corner of Day Street and Edgewood Avenue in the Dwight neighborhood, her bookstore stands as a partial answer, filled with works examining or celebrating black heritage. Among the ones that have influenced her the most are Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown, the “Falconhurst” series, which began with Kyle Onstott’s Mandingo, and The Original African Heritage Study Bible edited by Cain Hope Felder. These books shaped her thinking and, for the past 28 years, her store’s shelves have been filled with those and many other relevant works, crafting a narrative that transcends the standard, reductive one.

Taylor believes there’s as much need as ever for black people to read such books, pointing out the parallels between the old plantations and the modern prison industrial complex, which disproportionately feeds on young black men. There’s the way prison laborers, often compelled to work under threat of punishment, earn a pittance for their efforts; the way laws strip ex-convicts of certain rights, including the right to vote; the way society often strips them of the ability to find honest work. If the connection could be made clearer to more black people, she feels, it could illuminate—and help them change—the structural patterns that have afflicted the community for so long.

That said, “I don’t do a hard sell,” she says. When someone comes into her store, she says she first tries to get to know a person’s individual interests. Sometimes preliminary conversations quickly widen and deepen, perhaps leading another browser to join in. Taylor says she’s had chains of four or five people drawn into conversation like that. Sometimes, after a long time conversing, one of them will confess to her, “I don’t know how I got here.”

Besides her stock of black-focused texts and related wares—such as prints of works by black painters, decorative pillows, earrings, beads and a poster depicting 104 innovations created by black engineers and scientists—Taylor’s bookstore is also stocked with bibles, bible index tabs, communion cups, Christian-themed crossword books and related Christian items. Taylor says local church congregations are an essential customer base for her multi-faceted business, which also offers custom picture framing.

Keeping a diverse ledger, she says, is essential for keeping her doors open in today’s e-book marketplace. In recent years, Taylor has seen both Christian and black print bookstores closing their doors left and right. She often wonders, “Am I next?” Her family has helped her keep the lights on during the toughest dry spells. Without their support, “I would’ve gone with the rest.”

Taylor admits she’s more an activist than a business owner, and while her establishment may not be the most profitable way to make a living, she feels she has an obligation to keep her doors open, providing a place of learning, inspiration and conversation in a community that’s seen far more than its fair share of difficulties.

Taylor, for one, remains committed to addressing them. “We speak of wanting our neighborhoods to change,” Taylor says, “but if we’re not here, then it will not happen.”

A Walk In Truth
162 Edgewood Ave, New Haven (map)
Tue-Fri 1-6pm, Sat 1-5pm
(203) 404-7200

Written and photographed by Daniel Shkolnik.

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Daniel is an aspiring novelist. He owns a Yale sweater he will never wear and takes his Faulkner with vermouth and his vermouth with an orange wedge. An avid traveler and retired hooligan, he was kicked out of the largest club in Africa for breakdancing, joined an Andalusian metal band and, while in Istanbul, learned to read the future in his coffee grinds. Despite the omens he finds at the bottom of his morning joe, Daniel continues to write.

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