Jeffrey and Pamela Blair wanted their children to feel proud. Then they wanted all African-American children to feel proud. The couple’s business, EyeSeeMe, is a 1,200-square-foot storefront in the St. Louis suburb of University City, reports St. Louis Today. With shelves of bright-jacketed books and bold posters splashed across the walls, it confronts, with defiance and love, the weight of history. The Blairs have curated close to 3,000 titles, ranging from Africa-themed alphabets to the lives of Black inventors to hip-hop poetry.
Collectively, they chronicle African American lives, history and culture. EyeSeeMe says to its young customers: Do you see all these stories of achievement, of courage, of ingenuity, of fun? This is who you are. Among the most requested books at story time is “Do Not Bring Your Dragon to the Library,” about an African-American boy whose unusual pet gets him in trouble. “It’s just a story. It’s not about anything racial,” Jeffrey Blair says. “But because African-American children see themselves in this book, validation takes place. That is where the store’s name comes from.” Adds wife Pamela, “Being in EyeSeeMe does something to you because, for the first time, you are standing in a space where everything looks like you. For a Black family, it is like, ‘Where has this been all my life?’”
Although the Blairs are more humanists than activists, race has long been an incendiary issue in St. Louis. The Dred Scott case was first tried at the Old Courthouse here. EyeSeeMe is located five miles from Ferguson, where in 2014 a White police officer killed a young African-American man named Michael Brown, escalating the Black Lives Matter movement. The store will relocate this month to a larger space about a mile away to accommodate more classrooms.
Teaching is core to the Blairs’ mission. Currently EyeSeeMe runs a popular summer-school program and offers after-school tutoring. Starting in March, it will hire students from Washington University, where three of the Blairs’ four children are enrolled, to provide supplemental instruction to home schoolers. Math and reading lessons are conventional, but history lessons include a weighty African-American component. The Blairs spend half their time visiting schools, where they run book fairs and offer professional-development workshops for educators. They also talk with staff about teaching diverse texts and about sensitivities around race in history classes.