Amber Collins is the owner of the Healing Source and the Soul Book Nook, both bookstores that opened this summer. The Soul Book Nook is the first Black-owned bookstore registered in the state of Iowa.
Before opening her bookstores, Collins worked at a nonprofit she founded to address the needs of at-risk school-age youths through in-school and after-school programming.
I was following the killing of George Floyd and I was reading the news so much that I began to get distracted. My mind, my soul, everything began to focus on whether there was any justice. I wasn’t moving forward. I was still laughing, I was still encouraging my own children and I was still being positive on the outside. But I was beginning to reflect too much inward. So I stopped watching the news.
I don’t look at anything unless I can help. If I can’t help, why torment yourself with it?
I saw the marchers, I saw the protests. I got asked if I was going to march. John Lewis wrote a book before he passed away and said that what he, Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson and others did in history was they studied. They were academically prepared to join the movement. So I thought, what is my place? You have to know history to know your place in a movement. My place is books. I did not see a lot of African American books on the shelves at school. There weren’t a lot of books that reflected all of the stories of our culture. We were stuck in a cycle of reading the same histories about three people and slavery. Nothing about Black inventors.
[For me], George Floyd started a reflection process and made me think about what my part in history is. If I’m going to talk about injustice, what would I tell my children that I did? I didn’t march. I didn’t go run with the NAACP. Though I was praying. I just really wanted to help. I wanted to do something.
I had begun to think about what could heal people. There was so much going on in the world, I just wanted people to heal. I began to reflect on what helped me heal when I was little — from loneliness, boredom — and I thought about books. My passion is reading.
Every year for my birthday, I didn’t get clothes or a birthday party — I received a book. One year I got “The Neverending Story.” It was written in green ink, and in the middle of the story, you flipped the book over and you started from the other way, which was in red ink. I cherished that book. I had never seen a book written like that. I fell in love with the idea of a book itself being this world that you held in the palm of your hand. When I was young, I visited the Aquarian Book Shop, a Black-owned bookstore owned by Alfred Ligon. In that bookstore, I saw so many Black intellectuals come in. I was amazed that this other world existed. All of these Black people weren’t working in factories or in the fields detasseling corn. They were coming in with books they’d written, and artwork with their names on it. They would have book readings. It made me realize that there was power in knowledge. There was another world, and it all seemed to come from reading books and educating their mind.
On July 14, I began the steps to open up an on- line bookstore by registering the name for the Healing Source. That’s when the vision became more clear. I felt like God was asking me to use something I already had. I felt like I was being called to do it. It didn’t come as a big, loud sound. I walked into it. I walked into my calling not knowing that it was always around me my whole life. The books were always there. The Soul Book Nook was the second bookstore that I started; that’s the sister companion of the Healing Source.
Opening up the stores, there were obstacles and challenges. But I made up my mind to go forward anyway and believe in an outside power, God, that was with me. The thing that can handicap us the most is that we are our greatest enemy. I had the fear of failure. Failures, insecurities, defeats, stumbling blocks, all of those things were against me. The resources weren’t there. The racial distress. And I’m a woman. I had to move on in spite of these things.
I’m an introvert. I had to come out of my shell. I had to come out into the world and be in front. That was so scary to me. I didn’t know if it would work. But then I was like, “This is what people need.” I was on the seesaw between hope and fear of the unknown and the fear of failure.
You can’t live a selfish life. Whatever you do, you should be helping others. To do nothing is a selfish thing. The reason I moved forward and had to operate in fearless mode is because I had to overcome any fear that tried to be a force against my movement.
I was fearless enough to move forward because I was thinking about others. I had to be unselfish. For the next generation, we need to be fearless.
My world has always revolved around kids and teaching. I was thinking about the kids who could never see themselves on an adventure. How come they can’t take off in a spaceship or end up in the Jurassic period?
They open up a book where they’re on the streets of the inner city, shooting each other, and their mom is a crackhead and their sister is pregnant and their father is either a pimp, dead or in jail.
[Opening the bookstore] made me active again. I felt rejuvenated. I felt restored. I felt like I had a purpose again instead of just sitting and doing nothing. I felt so revived. I felt like I had a new beginning.
This is my part to play. I feel like I have to do it. But does the glory and the credit go to me? No. Because everybody has something to do. Everybody has a purpose. Did I necessarily want to? No. But I wanted kids to have the books. I wanted people to be able to read about history, people and cultures. It’s really important to know history so you can share it with other people. You have to know history. We are not what people see on the news, always being associated with death and crime. There should be more historical education in bookstores.
My purpose is to be in this world to make things better and to serve. I try to be humble and add something to the world. We live off what the world has to give. We need to grow to be better. My purpose is to leave behind something that makes our culture, our race better.
I think the books are just a manifestation of a part of who I am. It’s not the whole part. This bookstore is not my whole purpose. My purpose is to share what has saved me. As many times as I’ve failed, my purpose is to encourage people to get back up and move forward. I think this bookstore is part of the plan, but I don’t think it’s the end of the line.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE FEARLESS?
Fearless means moving forward toward a destination or a goal in spite of the intimidation, obstacle or the danger that might be up ahead. It means having the courage to take it one step at a time regardless.
WHAT DOES BEING FEARLESS LOOK LIKE?
It looks like walking through a storm. The wind, the rain, as it’s pelting you, you’re pushing forward in spite of it. You can see the force but you’re pushing toward it anyway. You may be walking slow, but you’re still walking.
WHAT DOES BEING FEARLESS FEEL LIKE?
It feels like you’re flying on wings that may not be yours, but you borrowed them. I’m soaring on other people’s wings.
HOW DO YOU BECOME FEARLESS?
Focus. My one focus was to make it happen regardless. Make it happen regardless of the paperwork. I kept the focus on what I was trying to do. Period. It was getting the books, buying the books, selling the books. Ignoring the distractions.
DRAW THE WORD FEARLESS.
I would draw a woman walking on a path in a forest where there’s a fork in the road. There’s tall trees, sequoia trees. The sky might be gray. She has three paths to take. No matter which path she takes, she’s going to go. She’s not going to stay there. She’s going to walk through that forest to the end.