The Charnice A. Milton Community Bookstore, two years in the making, opened to the public earlier this week during an event at the Busboys and Poets on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue that reintroduced the Anacostia community to the well-regarded journalist who succumbed to what had been described as a senseless act of violence.
In celebrating the bookstore’s launch and Milton’s short but impactful life, her parents said that they wanted patrons to follow her example by reading, not only for themselves, but for the young people in their midst. They credited their daughter’s favorite pastime as the foundation in her successful academic and journalistic career.
“Charnice spent every summer going to Francis Gregory Library and reading 97 books when she was little,” said Francine Milton in her recollection of her daughter’s childhood on Monday evening, telling The Informer that the late Milton used reading and journalism to overcome shyness and a medical condition.
Upon entering Busboys and Poets, she and Kenneth McClenton, the late Milton’s stepfather, spoke with visitors, including fellow anti-violence advocates Anthony and Tyreese McAllister, parents of Ayana McAllister, a college student who died in a hail of gunfire two years after Milton.
Later, they accepted a small sculpture of a book and pen made from entirely from more than 50 molten shell casings, and listened as Argentinian-American artist Stephanie Mercedes walked audience members sitting in Busboys and Poets’ Marion Barry Room through the creative process. On the small sculpture read a quote by the late Milton that spoke to her love for reporting: “I want to write stories that matter in the community where I grew up.”
Francine Milton said her daughter’s appreciation for a wide variety of genres allowed her to do just that.
“Charnice read Shakespeare, the Bible, and The Art of War,” Milton said. “She loved writing. She always took a reporter’s notebook [on her assignments]. It was her key to make sure she was the best.”
On the night of May 27, 2015, exactly four years before the launch of the Charnice A. Milton Community Bookstore, the 27-year-old journalist had been returning home from a reporting assignment when a bullet aimed at another person took her life on Naylor Road and Alabama Avenue in Southeast. To this day, the case remains unsolved.
In the years leading up to her death, Milton built a reputation among colleagues and residents as a community reporter dedicated to holistically and accurately telling the stories of everyday people. Upon completing her graduate studies at Syracuse University, Milton covered ANC meetings, groundbreakings, and other gatherings on behalf of Capital Community News and East of the River Magazine, often cranking out nearly a dozen stories per month.
The Charnice A. Milton Community Bookstore, where people pay little to nothing for the books for their choice, manifested in a discussion about the lack of bookstores in Wards 7 and 8. Milton’s colleague John Muller suggested that the project by We Act Radio’s Kymone Freeman, already in the works, be named in her honor.
In 2017, during Memorial Day weekend, Sugar Bear and Experience Unlimited performed at a cookout marking the start of the bookstore project. They and Northwest-based bookstore Politics & Prose counted among the sponsors of this two-year endeavor.
Since its inception, Freeman, Virginia Spatz, and others accepted more than 10,000 books from community members, a fifth of which made it on the bookshelves near the front of the Anacostia Busboys and Poets that houses the Charnice A. Milton Community Bookstore.
This week, the community bookstore joined Mahogany Books, located around the corner in the Anacostia Arts Center, as the only standalone bookstores located east of the Anacostia River. Freeman described it as part of a grand plan to prioritize Black people’s well-being.
“We are here to offer people a culture of literacy,” he told The Informer. “Dr. Frances Cress Welsing said that reading is more than important than the television. People who visit the bookstore can get books no matter how much they have. This is a step in the right direction.”