To understand the origins of Bind Café and Beyond Barcodes multi-cultural bookstore, one must listen to DeAndra Beard as she travels back in time, wading through a wealth of experiences, and languages, as she tells her story.

Since October of 2014, The Beyond Borders Language Learning Center founder has enjoyed watching her vision of helping people from different cultures gain common ground and acceptance through the dialogue created from learning languages. Now, she’s ready to take the next step.

On Jan. 8, Beard opened Bind Café and Beyond Barcodes multicultural bookstore to enhance the offerings, and mission, of her business venture at 108 N. Main St., right across from the Howard County Courthouse.

“I really haven’t found the words to describe that. It’s like fulfilling a life purpose,” Beard said of the last year and a half. “It’s not just, ‘I’m opening a store and I hope it goes well.’ You can see in a tangible way your life purpose unfolding right in front of you. You can’t give me money for that. If this is going to affect my community in a positive way, I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”

The venture has been a leap of faith. Beard was established as a Spanish teacher in the Kokomo Schools system when an experience right around the 2008 presidential election made her take up a new career path.

She started seeing issues with racism at her school, and with the blessing of an administrator, she modified her curriculum to focus on racial reconciliation.

It was well-received, but it also gave her pause. She realized that these students were a microcosm of their community. The divisions and lines that the civil rights movement of the 1960s tried so hard to blur were still prevalent.

“So, we offer these languages to try to eliminate the sentiment, ‘They should learn English. They’re in America,’” she said of her vision for Beyond Borders. “Or, people who are here saying, ‘I don’t speak English so I can’t connect.’ So, we do offer English. We offer French, Portuguese, sign language, so that we can create this common ground where discussion and connection can happen and bring the community together. It’s a formula to try and help enhance sustainable community development.”

An experience in December helped her feel like she was on the right path. A middle-aged black couple, a 70-year-old white man, a white teenage boy and a black mother in her late 30s were sitting at a table together learning and generating dialogue through their lessons at Beyond Borders.

“It was beautiful and that’s the point,” Beard said. “These people were sitting together at this table getting to know each other in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise. Some of them would never interact if they weren’t put in this class together.”

That’s the atmosphere she hoped to create all along, and the bookstore and café will be extensions of that atmosphere, she hopes.

The books on the shelves of Beyond Barcodes aren’t the typical books one might find in a big bookstore. There’s a much more complex depth to the literature, Beard said. The majority of the books are written by or written about people of color. The topics cover a range of issues, including social justice, human rights, and multi-cultural and international themes.

“We want to carry books that help create that common ground,” Beard said. “So, I try to bring in those works that can help people learn about everybody. We try to provide a diverse offering of themes. We have reading material for all levels — children’s books, middle-reader, young-adult and even some scholarly books for nerds like me.”

The bookstore features an open concept with tables and chairs, and in the back, Bind Café lures those bookworms in with its craft coffees and teas and delectable pastries.

“The slogan for Bind is ‘Because Books and Coffee Go Good Together,’" Beard said. “When we have people in having book discussions, I want people to be able to stay. Saturday mornings have been good. You see people in here from different sectors. Muslim, whites, blacks — you see them sitting around talking. It’s not just the parents. You see the kids at the craft tables from all different cultures interacting. They’re interacting on a level they wouldn’t otherwise. It’s about developing the community in the way we hope to.”

The coffees aren’t your typical Folger’s Dark Roast-types, either. These offerings hail from Haiti, Guatemala, and even a local roasting company, Naomi Smith’s Factory Town Coffee. There’s also loose leaf tea.

And, the “goodies,” including muffins, quiches, turnovers and cookies, come from pastry chef Ashley Pennington, a Kokomo native who works out of Carmel now.

“Every country I’ve been in has had good coffee or tea,” Beard said. She’s spent time in Chile and Brazil during her post-high school and college days.

“And in my experience, good conversation always happens around something,” she added. “It’s easier to sit down at a table with someone and read if I have something to eat or drink. Conversations happen around food and drink. And I love teas and coffees. It makes sense.”

Josh Sigler can be reached at 765-454-8580, josh.sigler@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @JSig_KT.

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