Married team Michelle Lewis and Charles Hannah own and operate Third Eye Books, a Portland, Ore., store focused on titles dealing with anti-racism and social justice. While “there might be other Black, brown, Indigenous, and people of color that sell books in Portland, we are the only bricks-and-mortar,” Lewis said.

Lewis calls Third Eye Books her “Meskhenet,” alluding to the Egyptian goddess of household and destiny. Several years ago, when her work as a therapist and contractor for prison mental health services became unsustainable for her own health, she and Hannah mobilized their shared passion for community literacy. They began trading and selling books from multiuse community spaces, including free libraries, and they incorporated as Third Eye Books in 2019. “During the pandemic, we kept people connected with books when they couldn’t go to the library or the community center,” Hannah said.

Once people saw Third Eye Books as a channel for movement titles like Lucas Burke and Judson Jeffries’s The Portland Black Panthers and Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist, they began frequenting its online store. Hannah and Lewis were surprised by the steady chiming of their e-commerce app, notifying them of sales. This success convinced them to seek a bricks-and-mortar commercial space.

Lewis hesitated to fund-raise for essential startup costs, because of how “money and communities of color are viewed through the lens of white body supremacy,” she said. “I didn’t want to answer to someone” who didn’t trust the business model, she explained—a sentiment that can stop people of color from seeking necessary donations.

Nevertheless, Hannah and Lewis’s community came together to seed the startup, and they signed a lease in February 2021. The well-attended grand opening in June of that year featured Olympic gold medalist Tianna Bartoletta, author of the memoir Survive and Advance. Third Eye Books is now fund-raising for a bookmobile and a ramp for improved accessibility into the store.

As part of their mission, Lewis and Hannah work with the foster care nonprofit Friends of the Children and host a Prose Before Bros book club for women of color. They held an off-site launch for The Quaking of America with anti-racist educator and trauma specialist Resmaa Menakem, and received a grant so that 100 attendees could be given copies of the book.

Hannah and Lewis keep in touch with Black-owned bookstores across the country, including Mahogany Books (Washington, D.C.), Harriett’s Bookshop (Philadelphia), and Loving Room: Diaspora Books + Salon (Seattle). Hannah visited Oakland, Calif.’s Marcus Books, founded in 1960, for a “backroom tour and history of the family business” and talked with owner Karen Johnson about running an “independent” bookstore. While “independent” signals staunch freedom, it also “seems as though you’re by yourself,” Hannah reflected. He has a long-term vision of a consortium of Black-owned bookstores.

Hannah also looks for ways to move beyond business-as-usual approaches. “If there was a convention for Black writers and other industry professionals, who would attend and sponsor it?” he asked. “Do we have to have a Jason Reynolds keynote?”

Lewis added that a gathering to address unique concerns of Black-owned businesses could complement a general bookselling get-together: “Why reinvent the wheel? It doesn’t have to be separate.”

On the immediate horizon, Third Eye Books plans to open an apothecary and gift shop this fall, across from the store. Third Eye Wholistic Wellness will enable Lewis to practice the healing arts associated with her mental health training and will serve Portland’s diverse community. “We are unapologetically Black and proud,” Lewis said. “I love me, and I love my people, and this project is bigger than me and my husband.”