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‘We will fight back’: Lotus coffee creates lending library in protest of book bans

<i>WXMI</i><br/>At Lotus Brew Coffee and Tea on College Avenue
At Lotus Brew Coffee and Tea on College Avenue

By Lauren Edwards

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    GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan (WXMI) — At Lotus Brew Coffee and Tea on College Avenue, customers can get iced coffee, lattes, Americanos, vegan treats and some banned books.

“It started off with three bookshelves. And, we called out to the community saying ‘Hey, if you have any LGBTQ books or banned books, we’d love to have them.’ And, it just kind of exploded,” said owner Ruslan Maxwell Joseph Freeman during an interview with FOX 17 on Monday. “Now, we’re up one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight shelves that are overfilled just from community donations.”

Freeman reached out to the community months ago after getting fed up with all the book bans happening nationwide. In protest, they created a homegrown, community-based lending library. So far, hundreds of books have been donated, from local residents, the Pride Center, and other libraries, and 60-70 percent of the books were LGBTQ-related.

“With the checkout process, you can check out five books at a time,” he said. “It’s completely free. There’s no ID-checking or anything else.”

He said there’s a children’s section as well, created next to their free food pantry which is also open to patrons.

“The lending library, it started as a response to the BS happening in Texas and then it kind of spread like wildfire throughout a lot of different states,” Freeman said. “It started off in our public libraries and then it started getting into our schools, which is very worrying.”

According to PEN America, an advocacy group that fights for literature and human rights, between July 2021 and June 2022, there’s been 2,532 instances of individual book bans nationwide. 40 percent are LGBTQ-themed books. In Michigan, during that same time, there were 26-50 school book bans.

“A lot of the books that they’re targeting are not just LGBTQ books but books by authors of color, books on the Holocaust, books on a lot of very important issues that it’s absolutely mind-boggling insane what they’re banning,” Freeman said. “I mean Fahrenheit 451 is a prime example. We’ve probably read it in school. It’s literally a dystopian future where firefighters would literally be called to a scene and burn books because of this dystopian government that was authoritative and wants to control information. Once we start banning and burning books honestly we’re no better than Nazis.”

Freeman said when Lotus moved into the building on College Avenue he was determined to make it a hub for the community where patrons can talk about social issues over a cup of coffee or tea. His goal is to keep it that way and to have the lending library be a part of the conversation.

“This too shall pass but until it passes we will be here,” he said. “We will fight back in whatever way, shape, or form we can possibly take.”

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