Yusef Harris was a brilliant, charismatic, fearless, and generous entrepreneur who will be deeply missed. Among his many accomplishments, he may be best known for the establishment he created in 1986 that stands today as a testament to his commitment and dedication to inspire and motivate African and African American people to learn their culture, heritage, and history.
While the Alkebu-Lan Images Bookstore in North Nashville, adjacent to Hadley Park and Tennessee State University, fondly known as the yellow bookstore, is a physical manifestation of his endeavors, it is not the only way he reached out globally to educate and uplift. Harris lost his battle with cancer on Monday, January 3 at age 66.
The Washington, D.C. native came to Nashville as a psychology graduate student, first at Fisk and then at Vanderbilt, after completing his bachelor’s degree at Morehouse. I like to think he found his calling as Black Nashville’s community psychologist. He bought the former Lion Oil gas station on the corner of 28th and Jefferson Street, and used it as a base of operations to sell books, t-shirts and other apparel, shea butter and incense, and so forth, in the store, on the road at festivals, conferences and speaking engagements, especially Black History Month and Kwanzaa events.
Along the way, he provided jobs for young people, inspiration for all ages, and a focal point for the development of Black consciousness, self-concept, and self-esteem. He was adamant that Black children start reading by age 5 so as not to end up in prison. He started book clubs, held book signings, and sponsored internationally renowned speakers at the store and local venues such as Fisk University.
Yusef will be mourned by thousands across the diaspora, many of whom have reached out on social media to testify to the impact he has made. I could personally continue for pages about our friendship (since 1976) and his and our adventures on the conference and festival circuit over the decades, as could countless others. Instead, I’ll share some sentiments sent directly in from across the nation in the first two days following his passing to share with you, and encourage you to search online, including Facebook and social media, for others.
Funeral arrangements with Lewis & Wright were incomplete at press time. For information on the homegoing services and the obituary for Yusef Harris, please go to the website at: lewisandwrightfuneraldirectors.com.
Here is what some are saying about the late Yusef Harris:
“Yusef Harris was more than a business owner, he was a pillar in our community. I use the word pillar in the truest sense. He was a visible support for what was good and for those people who wanted to make things better. His physical presence and voice will be missed but his memory and lessons he taught will live on.” — Rep. Rev. Dr. Harold M. Love, Jr.
“I am heartbroken that we have lost yet another icon from the Jefferson Street business community. He like Kwame (Leo Lillard) inspired me to work for Jefferson Street, educated me about our history, taught me cultural competence, and worked alongside me to fight to preserve North Nashville for us. He truly believed for us, by and (buy) us. He supported other minority businesses, particularly, Black authors. I met Iyanla Vanzant and Rosa Parks at his bookstore. Most don’t know, Iyanla was Yusef’s girlfriend once upon a time. So you talk about cherishing your community, he invested his blood, sweat, and tears — literally, his son worked in the store for years before going off to Morehouse. Keep his legacy going, go by and buy-in his memory and celebrate his life. Show Nashville Yusef’s life was not in vain.” — Sharon Hurt, Metro Council; JUMP (Jefferson St. United Merchants Partnership) for 20 years.
“Yusef Harris was one of my students at Vanderbilt who had a vision of educating the community by opening up an Afrikan-centered bookstore in the heart of Nashville. He lived that vision when he opened Alkebu-Lan Images. It was the Black bookstore in Nashville and Yusef managed it successfully for nearly 40 years. A good Brotha, a friend, educator, and an essential partner of Nashville’s Black community. He will be missed. Asé…” — Dr. Raymond A. Winbush, Research Professor, Director, Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University; Former Director of the Race Relations Institute at Fisk University; Former Director of Vanderbilt Black Cultural Center.
“Yusef Harris was a pillar of the community that led by example. He gave me a job at Alkebu-Lan Images Bookstore one summer in the early 1990s and that opened a world of business, history, and responsibility to the community that directs my path till this day. Since then I have patronized his business and had many talks with him. We honor his memory as a shining example of how one man can positively impact a community. He will surely be missed.” — Jarvis Sheffield, M.Ed., Administrator/Director, Black Science Fiction Society, Black Nashville.
“Yusef and Alkebu-Lan’s presence and longevity in the North Nashville Community has long been a staple and gathering place for knowledge. The community loss is resounding with his passing. I pray that the Knowledge and seeds he planted inspire those who may take up his mission as a merchant of truth and educational tools to help us better understand our history, culture, and peoples who brought us to this day.” — Elisheba Israel Mrozik, artist and proprietor, One Drop Ink
“A home away from home… I thank you for making a bookstore a home for the community. Alkebulan Images is just as much a part of me as TSU. So many life-changing conversations, purchases, relationships formed…even after Amazon you remained my first choice. With the absolute best Egyptian Musk oils and incense ☺️ thank you, Baba Yusef Harris. I always feel welcomed and at home♥️🖤💚 My condolences to his son Jordan and those throughout the world he touched🖤 ” — Jamila Tyrrell
“It is only with the reflective lens of history, its deep and wide perspective offering what proximity does not, that Nashville will ever truly know the gift it had in Yusef Harris. While other booksellers, large and small, Black and white, fell to the pressures of a dramatically changing industry, Yusef and Alkebu-Lan Images stood strong. From the corner of John Merritt Blvd. and Jefferson Street, Harris, for more than 35 years, gave away as many things Black culture and he sold all things Black. His towering influence over the Black cultural landscape of Nashville in general, and North Nashville in particular, will be felt for generations to come.” — Dr. Crystal A. de Gregory
“It’s heartbreaking to know that we have lost a great scholar, entrepreneur, and friend. He founded Alkebu-Lan-Images to provide a bookstore of written literature and history by African authors throughout the diaspora, in addition to African art and artifacts. Gone too soon. We will see you on the other side.” — Lodovic Kimble, Psychologist, psychology professor, special education teacher, and community advocate.