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A peek into Rooted MKE, Milwaukee’s BIPOC children’s bookstore & literacy center

Ashley Valentine poses with her daughter, Asherah.
Mallory Cheng
Ashley Valentine and her daughter, Asherah, pose in front of a wall filled with books.

We’re continuing our COVID Earners Series, where we speak with businesses owned and operated by people of color, who are reimagining our city’s future during the pandemic.

For the last couple of years, Ashley Valentine has hosted pop-up book events throughout Milwaukee. All of the featured titles were written or illustrated by people of color, depicting protagonists of color.

Now, she’s opened a BIPOC children’s bookstore and literacy center called Rooted MKE, located on 5312 West Vliet Street. On top of continuing to offer children’s titles that feature protagonists of color, the bookstore offers tutoring services, exploration classes and events where families can read and eat together.

Valentine shares more about her vision and mission of the new bookstore: "It's important to also expose your family and your children to the characters as well, because a Black or brown person doesn't look any singular way. It's important to recognize that and spotlight that with your children as well."

She is excited to share the Rooted MKE space with the community on Vliet Street, and emphasizes that this is a great opportunity to connect with all of the different types of families that live in the area, as well as welcome them into the space.

Before operating Rooted MKE, Valentine was a Milwaukee Public Schools educator and led STEM programming for Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee.

Ultimately, she says she wants to make sure Rooted MKE offers opportunities to support literacy of all levels.

Valentine says what Rooted MKE is offering is something unique because it's catered specifically to children and trying to support the whole child through academic enrichment and support. "We can't assume that because a book is written for a kid that they're able to access it or that they have the foundational skills to be able to read it and truly tap into what the author is trying to convey. I wanted [Rooted MKE] to be a space that was truly centered around literacy and supporting literacy development."

During the pandemic, minority students struggled to be able to access education in a remote setting and make academic gains, she points out. "I think we have a unique opportunity to kind of meet families where they are, and support them on their academic and developmental journey for their children in a safe space, kind of curated with their children in mind."

Mallory Cheng was a Lake Effect producer from 2021 to 2023.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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