Darren Vincent was 30 years old before he read his first book. His tough neighborhood in Niagara Falls, N.Y. offered enough real stories to keep him focused on just trying to survive. He was a young man filled with rage who fought other young men every chance he got.

“I was a hard-headed, young, black boy who didn’t want to pick up a book,” said Vincent. “The first book I read was ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’ by  Susan Jeffers. At that moment I realized what I lacked: knowledge. Most of all, I realized that all the information came from books. I used to complain I didn’t have access to information like the guys in the suburbs had. But books taught me that I had access too, if I just read.”

A year after reading his first book Vincent, who everyone calls “Jaz,” opened his first book store in Charlotte, N.C. Today, he owns Red@28, a cultural lounge and restaurant that that hosts book signings by the famous and the up-and-coming. He also produces the Charlotte Literary Festival, featuring popular authors from around the country and local vendors. But Vincent has not forgotten the young, angry boy who did not read, or the difference discovering books made.


On October 16th, he took 18 children to a historic celebration of the life and works of literary icon Toni Morrison at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. Renowned poet Nikki Giovanni, one of the event’s hosts, teaches at Virginia Tech. The poet, who befriended Vincent after an appearance at his literary festival, invited the children. The tribute to Morrison included other noted writers, activists and actors reading her works. India.Arie performed a song called “Never Afraid of the Dark,” which she wrote in college after reading Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye.

Vincent’s children, ages 8 to 14, were winners of a contest in which he asked participants to write an essay based on the quote attributed to Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” The winners will have their writings published in a collection coming out next year.

Before the celebration, Morrison and legendary writer Maya Angelou were honored with an award given at a reception on campus. Angelou also opened the evening of tributes to Morrison, enchanting the audience with her personal style chat about life and Morrison.

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