At last year's Super Bowl halftime show in New Orleans, as Beyonce and her backup dancers took the field, many watching from home recognized the costumes and the moves: black leather, black berets, raised fists.
But many did not.
The performance was a nod to the Black Panther party, on the 50th anniversary of the group's founding.
After the show, "I realized a lot of people, they didn't know about the Black Panther party," Zellie Imani said. "They didn't know all the information about the Black Panther party. They weren't taught about it in grammar school. They weren't taught about it in high school."
For Imani, who is a teacher in New Jersey and has been a longtime organizer with the Movement for Black Lives, this was a knowledge gap he wanted to fill. And it wasn't the only one.
With issues of race dominating the national conversation, he wondered: "How do we educate people on the black experience?"
This year, together with Derick Brewer, he launched Noir Reads, a book subscription service designed to "help people discover voices of African descent actively exploring the Black experience through fiction and nonfiction." The plan is to send out a box to subscribers once a month, with two to three titles on a chosen theme.
The idea of book subscription services isn't new. The Book of the Month Club, founded back in 1926, shipped books chosen by a panel of judges to its members. It still continues today, in a modern iteration. Bookstores offer subscriptions, too, as do a fleet of other companies. No matter your taste in genre — sci-fi, romance, horror — there's a book subscription service for it. But Noir Reads is one of the first to highlight black authors, with an emphasis on education. Part book club, part syllabus.
Imani thought Noir Reads might be a small, regional service at first. Then the orders starting pouring in. People wrote from South Africa, Australia and the United Kingdom, asking about international shipping. For logistical purposes, they had to cap the first shipment at 200 boxes; they sold out two weeks after launching the idea.
The first subscription box, which just shipped this week, contains two books: "Freedom is a Constant Struggle" by Angela Y. Davis and "From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation" by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor.
The subscription also comes with a reading guide and access to an online forum, where readers can discuss the books and the topics they raise. Online book clubs are nothing new, either, but Noir Reads gives people a chance to engage on topics that are in the news and in their lives — even if they can't find a group to sit down with where they live.
"It's about: How do we get people to talk about these books together?" Imani said. "To really discuss it, debate it, and go deeper into these books? To share information with one another and build community?"
Imani and Brewer are already planning out the next boxes. The chosen books will explore not just the African-American experience, but the black experience around the world. They want to compile a box on South Africa and a box on Haiti, just to start, tapping people from those countries to help choose titles and share their experiences.
"We really want to expose people to other histories and other cultures and other stories," Imani said.