Kaila Boulware Sykes and her husband, Raymond, met when they were students at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. “Throughout our relationship, we’ve always done community service,” Sykes told CNN.
When her family was discriminated against at a local bookstore, she knew it was another opportunity to expand their community service work.
In 2021, the couple, who are black, visited a bookstore in Ocean County, New Jersey, with their son, Truth, now 2. “We took him there because they had hundreds of thousands of pounds,” Sykes said. “We wanted to give our son the experience of being in a literary playground.”
But in the bookstore, Sykes said: ‘We weren’t welcome, people were staring at us and whispering,’ she said. “We were frustrated, we were a little upset.”
It was “our first sign that we were doing something important that the community needed”.
“It’s a cool way to spread love, to spread smiles, to spread joy, to spread our theme of making reading exciting for people of all ages,” she said.
So far, Hidden Gems has received a total of £40,000 in donations, Sykes said. They receive donations from organizations and individuals, as well as some authors who donate their books. They sell gently used books from their storefront in New Brunswick in addition to giving away free books at community events.
“The amount of community support we’ve received from this has literally been overwhelming, in a great way,” Sykes said. “People from all over the world, as far away as Australia, the Netherlands, Ghana, have supported our effort by donating books or sending monetary donations.”
“It’s truly amazing, the impact that can literally be on an entire generation if we all come together and participate,” she said.