VALLEJO, Calif. (KRON) – Black history is honored every day at a Vallejo fine arts gallery and bookstore. The owner there highlights local artists and sells literature you won’t find in schools.
For 26 years, on a quaint corner of Marin Street, edging a strip of family businesses in Vallejo, an unassuming yet historical storefront has educated visitors about the Black experience.
“Art by Solece, we have Yolanda Patton, and again, these three artists, Jibca, are from the art of the Black diaspora at the Richmond Art Center,” said owner Rozalind Sinnamon-Johnson.
From the moment you walk into Ethnic Notions Fine Art Gallery and Multicultural Bookstore, you are always one room away from being introduced to a new aspect of Black history. There are Black musicians immortalized in books, and, just feet away at the next stop on the tour, a satellite exhibit of the African diaspora.
“The art of the African diaspora, it is an unjuried show, which means they let people come in with what they have. I do jury most of the artists that come in here and what my criteria is is if it’s a good piece,” Sinnamon-Johnson said.
Sinnamon-Johnson says she opened her business nearly three decades ago because she felt the East Bay needed it. At that time, she says her only option for a variety of Black books and art was at Marcus Bookstore in San Francisco.
“I figured if I was tired of crossing the bridge, other people would be tired of crossing the bridge too. So, I opened this business so that people could educate their children like I was,” she said.
Longtime client Sheila Mays has been shopping there since 1997. Mays says the fine art gallery and books serve as a conduit to Black history for her and her children — from politics, the plight of Black farmers to Black roles in social justice.
“Every month I came in before I had children and I started collecting one book a month for the three I anticipated, and I’ve continued to do that over the years,” Mays said. “So, you think about that. I have thousands of books at my house, and, I literally, literally gotten so much learning, it’s almost like I went to college here and got my master’s.”
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Sinnamon-Johnson’s first and best-selling artist is Augusta Asberry, whose sister lived in Vallejo. She prides herself in featuring local work and selling books that supplement what students are learning in school.
“We talk about Harriet Tubman all of the time, but we don’t talk about William Still. He was the father of the underground railroad,” Sinnamon-Johnson said.
Over time, Sinnamon-Johnson’s passion for educating her visitors has only grown, as has her pride in being Black.
“Knowing who you are and where you came from helps you be who you are. And you don’t have to feel that others have to approve of you. You don’t worry about, ‘What does this person think? What does that person think?’ You are because you are and because God made you who you are, and that’s good enough,” she said.