Shaykh Anwar Muhammad

Shaykh Anwar Muhammad, owner of The Black Reserve Bookstore in downtown Lansdale, and president of the Ambler branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

LANSDALE — As the self proclaimed “Black Panther of Lansdale,” The Black Reserve Bookstore owner Shaykh Anwar Muhammad is working to help the community one book at a time.

Muhammad, 41, of Hatfield, came to Montgomery County by way of central Pennsylvania.

He spent 15 years working with “adjudicated youth” and “coaching high school football” in the Harrisburg area. While he said the majority of that particular chapter of his life was rewarding, the last five years were difficult.

“It was hard,” Muhammad said. “You’re working with these children, and all of a sudden they’re gone. Either gone from somebody killing them or doing something getting put away forever.”

The Millersville University graduate moved to the area about six years ago, put pen to paper and became a published author in 2017 with “The Written Mixtape Vol. One: The Awakening.”

Muhammad spoke of his aspirations to launch a digital bookstore, but it was at a speaking engagement while on his book tour where he found out about available properties.

The Black Reserve Bookstore, his brick and mortar shop, opened in August 2017 in Suite 3 of 317 W. Main St. in downtown Lansdale.

Muhammad stressed the need to have his store in a suburban community.

“I thought it was crazy I had to drive to these places if I wanted to get something Black,” Muhammad said.

While Muhammad said some people were resistant to the idea at first —sending "closed-minded" messages to the proprietor on social media— looking back at the store’s three-year anniversary, he said it’s been an enriching experience.

“There are beautiful literary works of art in here that everybody should be exposed to,” Muhammad said.

The cozy bookstore is a one-stop-shop for “all things Black,” Muhammad said, complete with a variety of merchandise for sale including art, clothing and books. Works featuring prominent African-American figures such as Malcolm X and Former President Barack Obama can be seen displayed near the front door. The inviting coffee bar has stools, tables and space for “great conversations in here.”

When customers enter the shop, Muhammad said some were unaware of the extensive works created by Black authors. That notion drives home that stores like his are “necessary.”

Muhammad also encourages education and constructive conversations inside the walls of The Black Reserve Bookstore.

“So a rule here is there’s no such thing as a dumb question here,” he said.

While there are books for people of all ages, Muhammad keeps a wide selection of children’s books in his inventory. When asked for a recommendation, he said his favorite is by far David Wisniewski’s “Sundiata: Lion King of Mali.”

During his time in the Montgomery County area, he has used his platform as a business owner and published author to read at local schools and universities such as institutions within the North Penn School District and his alma mater.

At the Lansdale store, Muhammad said he’ll hold “children’s storytime” and information sessions on a myriad of topics including health and financial literacy. He’s also organized an event called The Black Reserve Re-Up, which provides free haircuts and school supplies for children.

“To me, it’s important to make the lives of our children better than what we had,” he said.

When reflecting upon his life-changing moments, Muhammad credited reading Eldridge Cleaver’s “Soul on Ice” for his own take-charge attitude.

Cleaver’s noteworthy quote, “If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem,” inspired Muhammad in his “early twenties” to “choose to be part of the solution.”

He also stressed the importance of making a better life for children like his 8-year-old son Idrees, and others in future generations.

“If in 15 years, he’s out front on Main Street with a sign talking about his life matters, we have all failed him,” Muhammad said.

Muhammad was appointed as president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Ambler branch in February and said it’s allowed him to “magnify” the initiatives he’s been working on for some time.

For instance, Muhammad said he held “community forums on racism” two years ago at Lansdale’s public library and borough hall. He said the experience allowed him to make connections with “police departments in the area and elected officials.”

The Memorial Day death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers promoted unrest with protests popping up across the country in cities including Philadelphia. Demonstrations have taken place in several Montgomery County boroughs including Ambler, Lansdale and Norristown. The NAACP’s Ambler branch has been a presence at a number of those recent rallies.

Muhammad added that the foundations and now longstanding relationships with officials makes him “tend to think our area in that context is ahead of the curve in what’s happening nationally.”

“I wanted to ease their minds a little bit to say the reason why I jumped out there and did this for this community, and Black people here, and the children, is because I wanted to ensure ... even though it could happen here, it would be less prone to happen here because of these bridges that have been built,” he said.

While Muhammad praised participants for their activism, he said there’s “there’s always a lot of work to be done.” He also urged people not to “get complacent.”

“What I said at the event was, ‘We don’t need allies and rhetoric, we need allies and action,’” he said. “We don’t need allies and rhetoric because a march without a plan is just exercise.”

The local leader called for sweeping reform through “policy and legislation,” “diversity training” and having “tough conversations.”

Muhammad said he’s been “in contact with county officials” and said he feels optimistic about these steps in the right direction.

“It’s gonna take all hands on deck to diffuse this problem,” he said.

@rachelravina on Twitter

Rachel Ravina is a journalist covering news and lifestyle features in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. She grew up in Blue Bell and graduated from Penn State. She's also a news enthusiast who is passionate about covering topics people want to read.

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