Black Business Spotlight: Strive Community Publishing

Mary Taris reading “Blend in or Fade Out.”
Photos courtesy of Strive Community Publishing

Finding ways to help people be heard

Black literacy starts with more Black books. Strive Community Publishing, started in 2018, is the manifestation of a vision set out by former teacher and Strive founder Mary Taris to solve the problem of underrepresentation of Black people in children’s books and the lack of support for Black authors. 

Since then, Strive has grown as a community-informed publishing company that seeks to foster new author’s voices, as well as encourage reading and literacy for Black folk of all ages. 

Taris grew up in North Minneapolis and became a teacher in the Minneapolis and Robbinsdale Public School systems. One of her greatest challenges while growing up and then while teaching was trying to find culturally relevant books for her students. 

“Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a book lover,” said Taris. “The only problem with that is that I never saw myself represented in books. So I’ve realized as an adult that it affected me, because I just remember always wanting to be someone else instead of being affirmed or inspired to be the Black girl that I was.” 

This issue of Black representation persisted when she became a teacher. Taris saw students’ disinterest with material and saw student achievement flounder due to lack of representation. “It’s affecting our children’s reading achievement, because they don’t want to read. 

“I really feel like they don’t want to read because there aren’t enough books that represent them, that really engage them. It’s not like they don’t have the ability to read, but I mean, why would you want to read when you never see yourself?”

When she started teaching, “I could not believe that there still were not that many books by Black people for my students,” Taris continued. “And I taught for years, but every year I always had to make an extra effort and even spent my own money to get books and resources for our children. 

“I kept saying, somebody’s got to do something about this! And I finally realized, I’m gonna have to do something. So I just decided I’m going to start a book publishing company and get more books into the world that our children can relate to.”

Photos courtesy of Strive Community Publishing On July 20, Strive will host its grand opening celebration.

However, starting a Black publishing company did not come without its challenges for Taris. Due to her student loans while obtaining a master’s degree, she was unable to secure a business loan and had to raise capital through other means. 

“It’s kind of ironic that, you know, I spent all this time and money to become educated, then when I really need to be able to use my education to bring more resources to our community, I couldn’t get a business loan.” But lack of funds did not stop her as she honed her collaborative spirit, leading her to create the Minnesota Black Publishing Arts collective, which includes In Black inc, Papyrus, and Wise Inc. 

“The publishing industry really does not represent our community… When I first started, I didn’t think there were any other Black publishers, but every time I met someone, I was like, ‘Hey! We need to stick together and try to work together.’” 

These partnerships also led Strive to get a brick-and-mortar store in downtown Minneapolis. Taris stated, “We are actually a part of a co-op. It’s called ‘the Sister Co-op’. The co-op was created by the Downtown Council’s Community Consortium, which promotes minority-owned businesses. They help businesses find affordable retail spaces. So we’re on the Skyway level of the IDS center, who partners with them.”

Strive is working to support the community through their Black Joy Literacy book clubs, upcoming summer events, and through supporting authors. “We strive to be a community-informed organization. So we’re out in the community, but also we really try to listen to what the community wants and needs.

“I started out publishing children’s books just out of my experience of being a frustrated teacher,” Taris said. “But after George Floyd was murdered, we started to get so many manuscripts and inquiries from people who wanted to be able to tell their stories. You know, they just want to be heard. 

“And so that, to me, just told me that we need to open up the doors and find a way to help people be heard, so Colnese M. Hendon’s book ‘Blend in or Fade Out’ is our first adult memoir. Because we know that is what the community needs and also what the community wants. 

“We will continue to publish children’s books, but ultimately we’re trying to find ways to help people be heard. That goes beyond publishing a book.” 

Taris continued, “We’ve been doing writing workshops and book talks throughout the community… We also have publishing resources on the website. So if people just don’t even know where to start, we have some resource videos, and we also have a literary consultant.

“So let’s say you’re not even sure what a manuscript could look like, or you have this idea for a book and it’s not developed. She could work with you on that.”

“Hockey is for Everyone” will launch July 15.

Another exciting book to look out for this summer is “Hockey is for Everyone,” a children’s book by Anthony Walsh that discusses confronting microaggressions in children’s sports written from a child’s perspective. 

Former high school hockey player and current children’s author Walsh, with the support of Strive, will be launching “Hockey is for Everyone” July 15, just in time for readers to get their copies at the upcoming grand opening of Strive Community Publishing’s storefront. 

“So on July 20, we’re having our grand opening celebration, and Anthony Walsh is our featured author,” said Taris. “This bookstore opening is gonna kick off our Summer Author Series, so people will be able to meet all of our Strive authors. 

“And then also we’re planning other events, and this is a great, beautiful space to have events. We’re looking to collaborate with anybody who wants to hold an important event in a Black space. 

“You know, we’re looking to be a resource for people who want to know more about Black literature. And we want to be a space also [where folks can] connect across cultures.”

Strive Community Publishing is fostering authors, growing the field of Black authors in Minnesota, and also making sure our community is engaged and excited about reading from childhood to adulthood. 

Strive started as a business that asked how they can fill the gap of Black under-representation in children’s books. It is growing into a community-minded publisher that strives to authentically uplift the voices and experiences of Black people. 

You can find out more about Strive Community Publishing by going to their store at www.strivepublishing.com and their storefront in the IDS building at 80 South 8th Street, Suite 254, Minneapolis, MN 55402.

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