Former school librarian lines shelves of South Bend bookstore with inclusivity

NOW: Former school librarian lines shelves of South Bend bookstore with inclusivity

SOUTH BEND, Ind.—It was celebrated as Black History “Week” in former school librarian and current South Bend business owner Kathy Burnette’s Chicago elementary school classrooms.

“We learned songs about different people, like George Washington Carver, that’s what we would do, we would have little concerts,” Burnette said.

The longtime reader said she was considered “gifted” and bused to different schools than her siblings on Chicago’s south side.

At her predominately black schools, Burnette’s education on black history was folded into the curriculum at the progressive institutions she attended.

“I don’t think I was gifted. I just answered a lot of questions,” Burnette said.

Burnette is one of 15 children in her family and the first to attend college, earning a degree in accounting from Northern Illinois University. She moved to the South Bend area over 20 years ago, at the time working as a bank teller and substitute teacher.

After observing what she saw as injustices inside of local special needs classrooms, Burnette decided to earn a teaching degree, which she completed at Indiana University South Bend. She later went on to earn a Master’s in Library Science from IUPUI.

That move brought her into local classrooms, teaching both first and second grade.

When a library position opened up at Discovery Middle School, Burnette saw an opportunity to use her love of reading to place inclusive books in the hands of young readers.

“When we’re in school and read books about black and brown people, they are mostly about slavery or civil rights and it’s about struggle but there are not a lot of books about people just hanging out, going to the library, talking to friends going grocery shopping, you know normal life. We call it casual diversity. It’s just life,” Burnette said. “When you read fiction about other people, it develops empathy and I said let’s see if we can get this in more places so we can see if we can learn to help and love each other.”

Burnette wanted to open a bookstore for 20 years and in July of 2018, she opened The Brain Lair Bookstore on East Jefferson Boulevard.

“I decided to try and focus a lot more on inclusive books because we don’t do that enough,” Burnette said.

Brain Lair Bookstore sells books for children and teens that Burnette hopes will help young people see themselves in a new light.

Burnette also helps local teachers create inclusive and diverse classroom library collections. Additionally, she hosts readings, author events, classes and more at the bookshop.

Brain Lair Bookstore is open Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.

To celebrate Black History Month, ABC57 is highlighting business leaders in Michiana every Friday during the month of February.

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