Capturing our stories

In Black Ink strives to tell the absent narratives of Minnesota’s people of African heritage

By definition, a story is an account of incidents or events. When certain narratives are absent, we miss points of view that strengthen the rich colorful fabrics of community.

In Black Ink (IBI) has made it their purpose to make sure the stories of Minnesota’s black communities are heard. With a FUBU (For Us, By Us) mentality, IBI strives to capture the untold stories of African heritage Minnesotans by creating and publishing a database of black writers, editors, illustrators, distribution reps and other publishing.

“Part of our mission is to really use publishing as an economic engine in our community,” said IBI co-founder Rekhet Si-Asar.

As owners of Papyrus Publishing, Rekhet and her husband Anura have made it their duty to showcase and highlight the literary art of Minnesota’s black community. The idea for IBI came to the couple in 2015, right before the passing of legendary Saint Paul activist and artist, Robert “Bobby” Hickman. It was during the process of trying to complete his story that the couple realized just how important it was to have the necessary resources available to gather, capture and tell stories.

“People really want to hear their stories,” said Kimberly Nightingale, executive director of the Saint Paul Almanac. “And these are stories that no one’s heard.”

Thanks to Nightingale, the Si-Asars were able to secure funding to start this journey. With $90,000 of initial funding from the Minnesota Historical Society, Rekhet and Anura enlisted support from 21 creative consultants to hold listening sessions around the state. These sessions would serve as gauges for uncovering how to best tell these stories and as a tool for IBI to know what stories to cover next.

According to Rekhet, IBI holds annual meetings to address the topics and ideas best suited for publishing. Last year’s theme focused on the Rondo neighborhood in Saint Paul and its rich black history. IBI helped publish two books, “Mr. Rondo’s Spirit” by Ericka Dennis, and “Joey and Grandpa Johnson’s Day in Rondo” by Dr. Artika Tyner, both part of The Rondo Children’s Book Series Project.

“We have to save and create space to tell our stories”

In December of 2018, IBI received funding from the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundations. Funding from the Foundations will go toward IBI’s Sankofa series, an anthology piece they are doing around education. The hope is that this funding will also allow them to hire on full-time staff.

“We have to save and create space to tell our stories,” Rekhet said. “And we have to be able to allow experiences of people who’ve lived the stories to be the voices that we hear when the stories are told.”

She and Nightingale agree that in their findings from the community, people want to have their narratives told by people who look and think like them.

“The thing we really heard was, ‘I don’t want a white person telling my story,’” said Nightingale. “‘That’s happened my whole life; and they’re not really saying the true story of my life or my community’s lives, I want my community to tell my story,’ and that’s really the power of In Black Ink.”

Their goal is to do away with intermediaries, providing authors of African descent in Minnesota an outlet to get their voices heard and seen. They hope IBI will also serve as a training ground for others who are interested in the literary arts and don’t yet have the skills. IBI wants the youth to see the viability in literary talent and Minnesota’s black story.

To learn more about IBI and their work, visit their Facebook page.

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