Special to the TN Tribune from the Nashville Scene

Alkebu-Lan Images, a cornerstone of the North Nashville community for more than 35 years, lost its founder. Yusef Harris — teacher, mentor, climber of Mount Kilimanjaro — has died. 

Harris opened Alkebu-Lan in 1986 while pursuing his doctorate in psychology at Vanderbilt University and teaching part time at Tennessee State University. The Jefferson Street property went up for sale, and he made a downpayment with a loan from Metro Development and Housing Agency. Since then, the shop has become a cultural mecca, selling books, art, apparel and other goods that reflect and celebrate African culture. 

“Yusef knew Black people needed to see images of themselves that were uplifting,” wrote Scene contributor M. Simone Boyd in March. “He saw a path to do that through books.” 

It’s hard to meet a Black person who grew up in Nashville who hasn’t felt Harris’ impact. He mentored and advised hundreds of Black business owners, his son and business partner Jordan Harris told Boyd. His story times for children are legendary. Countless poets and spoken-word artists found their voices at his open-mic nights, and the shop was a place where emerging Black authors were sure to find support. If you bought a dashiki at Alkebu-Lan Images, Harris could tell you exactly where in Africa the fabric was woven.  

In a 2015 interview with the Scene, Harris said that his goal was to “instill and improve a person’s self-concept.” 

“I recognize that to help people have more positive self-esteem and self-concept,” Harris said, “they need to read more and be conscious of their culture and heritage and history — especially African Americans.” 

In a tweet, TSU professor and North Nashville historian Dr. Learotha Williams called Alkebu-Lan North Nashville’s “House of Common Sense and Home of Proper Propaganda,” referencing the famed Harlem bookshop the African National Memorial Bookstore. 

Alkebu-Lan operated on Jefferson Street for more than three decades. In December 2020, the father-son duo purchased a building on Buchanan Street and expanded Alkebu-Lan.

“If you are going to be brick-and-mortar, you have to be able to control your land,” Harris told Boyd. 

“This principle,” wrote Boyd, “has allowed Alkebu-Lan to define success outside of capitalism and cultivate an environment to help other businesses grow.”