Knowledge is power, but being able to access it can be an uphill battle for disadvantaged communities.

PBS NewsHour reports on Instagram that St. Louis, MO, is a “book desert,” and the likelihood of retaining a significant number of books in a community is low. However, a determined Black woman business owner has stepped in to enact the change she wants to see.

According to the outlet, Ymani Wince launched Onyx, a free book vending machine, at the Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club, located on the north side of St. Louis. Wince also owns The Noir Bookshop, which provides Black and people of color (POC) literature.


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“I started thinking about what were ways that I could get books in the community, and I instantly thought of vending machines,” Wince told PBS NewsHour. “The concept of reading is good, having literacy is good, and I think access to information is a human right, no matter what you look like.”

This decision for Wince was not random but a solution for an evident issue in the city.

The outlet mentions the staggering statistics regarding literacy in St. Louis, with 30% of third-grade students in the city reading below a basic level. Being highly aware of this, Wince got the ball rolling on her vision of “re-imagining what literacy equity looks like” in the region.

“I’ve had naysayers tell me that, ‘You can’t change this. Black people don’t read,'” she shared with the outlet. “But here I am, a Black woman encouraging Black people to read, encouraging everyone to read, and just encouraging that books are good and everyone deserves them.”

Even though some have expressed doubt about Wince’s plan, students in the community were grateful for Wince’s contribution.

“I feel like it helps me with basic stuff in life,” student Jessie Jones stated about reading books during the grand opening of the vending machine. “It can help me get a job or graduate from school, so I feel like I would be nothing without reading books — it helps me write.”

According to Healthline, studies have shown that reading has long-term health benefits. Some of those benefits include prevention of age-related cognitive decline, building vocabulary, reducing depressive symptoms, and more.

So, this vending machine in St. Louis can help increase the chance for students to see such benefits in the future.

The Noir Bookshop’s website notes the Onyx book vending machine features books for students in grades K-12. Wince plans to have more locations at community centers and recreation centers further down the road.

To learn more about Onyx, click here.