MEMPHIS, Tenn. — DeMoir Books & Things is one of four brick-and-mortar independent bookstores still here in Memphis. A year and a half later after its opening, it remains the only Black-owned bookstore in the city.
Owner Jeremee DeMoir is a former literacy teacher who is working to help Memphians meet the mark. According to the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE), only 43% of students have shown increases in their English proficiency.
The State Report Card, released last month, shows more than half of the students in the third grade could be subject to retake the school year.
This is because of a new state literacy law that says that 3rd graders who don't score well on a standardized test must either repeat the third grade, go to summer school or attend tutoring sessions.
While that is up from last year’s 28% still more than half of students could be at risk of being held back.
As a lover of books "since utero," when his mother found out she was pregnant, DeMoir says it’s a lack of access that’s widening this gap.
“Books are expensive," DeMoir said. "A lot of parents, when choosing to feed your child or buy a book, it’s kind of an easy decision sometimes, so there’s a great disparity," DeMoir said.
It is a disparity that some say will need an "all-hands-on-deck approach."
While MSCS has implemented before and after-school tutoring along with fall, winter and spring "learning academies," DeMoir has used his business to give books to students.
The store's partnership with Literacy Mid-South, a group working to teach literacy skills to people of all ages, gives books, free of charge, to anyone under 17 years old. All they have to do is just walk into his store.
It's an effort to make young people "lifelong readers."
“Support your child in what they like," DeMoir said. "A lot of times it’s as easy as finding their favorite TV show in a different media format. My boys — they love Paw Patrol, and guess what, they have a lot of Paw Patrol books."
In addition to making books a part of a student's life by engaging their interests, DeMoir also warns readers (and parents) about protecting against "learning loss" during breaks or holidays.
“It’s called the learning loss, and so, kind of like a bank account," DeMoir said. "For a lot of kids, they will put the information in their bank [so to speak], and then as soon as it’s time to stop it kind of just leaves.”
DeMoir sees the books he carries and often gives to young readers as a way to represent Memphis' diversity, armed with classics like "If Beale Street Could Talk" and local staples like "Opal Lee" and "What It Means to Be Free: The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth." He said these books are weapons in the war against illiteracy.
"There's this huge thing that kind of oppresses the community when we think about literacy and the lack thereof and the impact of that," DeMoir said. "There's a bigger mission and bigger calling than just making sure that we have the dollar."