Kaila Boulware Sykes and her husband, Raymond, met while they were students at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. “Throughout our entire relationship we always did community service work,” Sykes told CNN.
When her family encountered discrimination at a local book store, she knew it was another opportunity to expand their community service work.
In 2021, the couple, who are Black, visited a book store in Ocean County, New Jersey, with their son, Truth, now 2 years old. “We took him there because they had hundreds of thousands of books,” said Sykes. “We wanted to give our son the experience of being in a literary playground.”
But in the bookstore, Sykes said, “We weren’t welcome, people were staring, whispering at us,” she said. “We were frustrated, we were a little upset.”
This was “our first sign that we were doing something important that the community needed.”
“It’s a cool way to spread love, spread smiles, spread joy, spread our theme of making reading exciting for people of all ages,” she said.
So far, Hidden Gems has received a total of 40,000 books as donations, Sykes said. They receive donations from organizations and individuals, as well as some authors who donate their books. They sell lightly used books from their storefront in New Brunswick in addition to handing out free books at community events.
“The amount of community support that we have received from this has literally been overwhelming, in a great way,” Sykes said. “People from all over the world, as far as Australia, the Netherlands, Ghana, have supported our effort by donating books or sending monetary donations.”
“It really is quite amazing, the impact that can be made on literally an entire generation if we all come together and pitch in,” she said.