Shamika Wood has the perfect remedy for relaxing after a long work day: she heads to Essence of Knowledge bookstore and art gallery in Cocoa. “This is like my second home,” said the Rockledge mother of three.
The bookstore is a community hub where ideas flow freely in a family atmosphere; a place that promotes knowledge as a way to boost self-esteem and self-awareness.
It is just what owners Nathaniel and Michelle Davis (pictured right and below) envisioned when they opened the business in 2011.
“We wanted to create a place where people could come and get educated on the rich and fascinating history and culture of African-Americans,” says Nathaniel “Nate” Davis, a retired U.S. Air Force master sergeant.
Located in a bright canary yellow building, Nate and Michelle welcome locals and tourists alike who are searching for books, art, jewelry, masks and other items steeped in African-American culture and thought.
With dozens of rows of books written by prominent black authors such as Toni Morrison and James Baldwin, and bestselling urban contemporary writers like Jesmyn Ward and Blacc Topp, this is the only urban bookstore (one that specializes in African American literature and culture) on the Space Coast, said Michelle.
Also in the mix are publications penned by local authors including Augusta Williams of Palm Bay, Zanetta Collins and Toni Stone Bruce, both of Cocoa, and Stephon Williams of Melbourne.
On any given day, you’re likely to find patrons sitting for hours conversing on history, politics, or literature, with exotic smells of and smooth sounds of old-school R&B music floating in the air.
Bridging Understanding with Compassion
Michelle points out that the bookstore was designed for anyone who wants to learn more about black history and culture.
“As children, [Afircan American children] go to school and learn about everybody else’s culture, but they don’t learn about ours and that really hurts,” she said.
Essence of Knowledge stocks as many as 2,000 books in the store on a diverse array of topics, including fiction, sociology, spirituality, inspirational, children’s books, cookbooks and even a few comic books.
“There really is something for everybody here — so much knowledge that you can really stimulate any mind,” says Ra Ma’at of Satellite Beach. “I come here because my entire family loves reading and, more importantly for me, I love supporting black-owned businesses like this.”
The Rev. Wesley Bruce, a retired church pastor living in Cocoa, thinks the Davises help serve the community by supporting other black entrepreneurs and by bringing in black scholars to speak at the bookstore.
“They are providing a community service by educating people with information not often taught in our society,” says Bruce, who teaches African history and has been on several mission trips to African countries like Zimbabwe and Botswana.
“One of the major reasons for all people to know about our history is because black history is world history, and Essence of Knowledge is giving people access and opportunity to that information,” he added.
Rolanda is an award-winning journalist, freelance writer/editor, media relations specialist, and community organizer specializing in strategic messaging for non-profit organizations. She is a full-time communication instructor at Florida Institute of Technology and the university’s 2020 Student Organization Advisor of the Year for her work as faculty advisor for the school's Black Student Union (BSU). As a journalist for nearly three decades, her work has appeared in numerous publications and international lifestyle magazines including Essence and Signature Bride.