Cover photo for Yusef F. Harris's Obituary
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Yusef F. Harris

November 13, 1955 — January 2, 2022

Joseph (“Yusef”) Fontaine Harris, III died peacefully after a fight with cancer on Monday, January 3, 2021 at St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville. Yusef was born on November 13, 1955 in Washington, DC to Joseph F. Harris, Jr. and Carol Mills Harris. He is survived by his son Jordan, brother, David C. Harris, Sr., (Kimberly), nephew David Harris, Jr., and niece Elana Harris. He is also survived by his aunt Ruth H. Robinson of Washington, DC, aunt Marguerite McCraven of Hamden, CT, and a large host of cousins from coast to coast in the US and France.

The eldest of two sons, Yusef was preceded in death by his parents who lovingly referred to him as “Joey”. Yusef moved from Washington, DC to Silver Spring, MD where he attended public schools and developed an entrepreneurial spirit at an early age. To make sure he always had enough pocket money he sold chewing gum at school and ran a paper route, he even soaked toothpicks in cinnamon to sell. At Paint Branch High School, Yusef excelled in track and field and held the school record for the 400-yard dash.
After graduation, Yusef enrolled at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga. After earning his bachelor’s degree in psychology at Morehouse, he then went on to graduate school in Nashville, TN to continue his studies of psychology at Fisk University, Meharry Medical College, and Vanderbilt University. In Nashville, Yusef met and married Celeste Anderson of Atlanta, GA, and from that union their son, Jordan A. Harris was born.
While still a graduate student, Yusef began teaching at Fisk and Tennessee State University. However, the life-long entrepreneurial drive that began when he sold candy in primary school led him to start a business selling art, t-shirts, and books. This activity led to the purchase of a former gas station on a corner lot in North Nashville and the establishment of Alkebu-Lan Images Bookstore. Through the bookstore Yusef found a way to combine his passions for improving the psychological health of African Americans and the thrill of making a deal.

For over 35 years and counting, Yusef’s bookstore has served as an iconic center in Nashville for finding a multitude of products to promote the positive self-image of African Americans including books by Black authors, art by Black artists, imported African goods, Afrocentric fashion, and natural health and beauty products. Through Yusef’s hardwork and dedication, Alkebu-Lan Images has withstood the tests of time as the only store of its kind in the state. For a time, when Borders, Barnes & Nobles, Books-A-Million, and the like had all gone out of business in Nashville, Alkebu-Lan Images was the only bookstore selling new books in the city.

Early on in his business, Yusef developed a great interest in promoting literacy and reading within Black communities, often invoking his favored call to action: “Power Now, Reading Is How”. As a part of his life’s mission to increase access to Black books, Yusef would pack up his van full of his books seemingly every other week in order to attend specialty conferences held for Black teachers, educators, journalists, engineers, thespians and more. It was quite common for him to be the only book vendor in attendance at many shows and festivals. Over the years he has become a recognized face at annual events from St. Louis to St. Augustine, from Chi-town to Charleston, and many points in-between. Back in Nashville, Yusef found further outlets for his service by organizing and hosting Black book festivals and partnering with Metro Nashville Public Schools to have book fairs with essay writing competitions for students. For several years Yusef organized an annual W.E.B. DuBois Lecture series on the campus of Fisk University, bring to Nashville such luminary authors as Frances Cress Welsing and Joy DeGruy. A particular highlight amongst the many book signings and other events Yusef put on in Nashville was when Rosa Parks held a book signing at the bookstore and the line was out the door and down the street to Hadley Park.

In addition to his life of work and service, Yusef was also an avid world traveler. His first big adventure came while at Morehouse when Yusef traveled to Ghana during the summer for a six-week service program sponsored by Operation Crossroads. On this trip he gained first-hand exposure to the unique cultural elements in an African country and led to his appreciation of the cultural offerings of the continent and of the importance of sharing that knowledge and awareness domestically. This revelation inspired the curation of the African themed art, literature, jewelry, and apparel that could be found in his bookstore. Trips to visit his childhood friend, Donald Keene, would take him to Jamaica, Senegal, Thailand, South Africa, and east Africa. Further excursions with friends and family would see him travel to Morocco, back to Ghana, and most recently to Mexico. Perhaps his ultimate trip was when Yusef and his son, Jordan, trekked for 7 days up to the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro and back in Tanzania and relaxing afterwards on the beach in Zanzibar.
Always ready to offer help or advice, Yusef sought out a comfortable balance between running a business and leading a life of service. For example, many entrepreneurs in Nashville and across the country found willing support from Yusef in their own endeavors. Whether they were looking for an initial foothold to introduce their products at Alkebu-Lan Images, seeking out tips on vending at upcoming festivals, or wanting assistance getting their own Afrocentric business up and running, Yusef always stuck to principles of cooperative economics and community. He chose to find ways to work together for a greater good than to react with a spirit of competition and self-protection. Finding purpose as a positive resource to his people and his community, Yusef has truly set an example for how one man, one life, can make a difference.

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