TAMPA — Felecia Wintons Taylor, who gave the Tampa Bay area its first black-themed bookstore with literature hard to find elsewhere, is now on the community's receiving end.
The founder of the now closed Books for Thought and a key player behind the annual Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival has been at Brandon Regional Hospital since Jan. 12 undergoing treatment for breast cancer, said her husband, Bishop Nathan Taylor. She has no health insurance. Loved ones hope to raise $10,000 by Feb. 7.
Relatives, friends and members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. established a Washington Mutual Bank account to defray her rising medical costs.
"I would have never thought that this would be happening to her," said Anita Lewis, who pledged Delta with Wintons Taylor when the two were undergraduates at the University of South Florida. "I can give back to her what she gave to me as an individual, what she gave to so many others, what she gave to the community."
One of Wintons Taylor's biggest contributions was Books for Thought, which she opened in 1992 in a Temple Terrace shopping plaza. It was a must-stop for everyone from Johnnie Cochran, O.J. Simpson's lead defense attorney, to lesser known authors such as Gwyn McGee (also known as Eboni Snoe). In 2003, Books for Thought was featured in O, the magazine of talk show maven Oprah Winfrey.
But the store was more than a place for books, said Dr. Samuel L. Wright, a student ombudsman and adjunct professor of Africana studies at USF. It was a cultural meeting spot where African-Americans could talk, catch up on the latest happenings or get Christmas pictures taken with a black Santa Claus.
"Everybody who is socially conscious in the African-American community would look forward to coming to the bookstore," Wright said. "People would drive from all over."
Wright would invite Wintons Taylor to speak to his "Social Institutions in the African American Community" class and encourage USF students to purchase their textbooks from her store.
"That was an educational experience," said Wright, who also drafted Wintons Taylor to help him with the Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival. "Students were just in awe with her, the manner in which she would speak to them, how she started her business."
The store closed in 2007 after Wintons Taylor's father died. Nathan Taylor said he and his wife plan to reopen it.
"A lot of people come up and tell me that they really miss it," he said. "I've been talking to some people about a location, and we hope to open the bookstore as soon as she's back on her feet."
Most recently, Wintons Taylor has turned her energy to the Taylor Peace Academy, the county's first antibullying school. The elementary charter school in Carrollwood was slated to open last August. Because of low enrollment and other issues, officials pushed back the opening to August 2009.
Taylor, the pastor of Prevailing Word Worship Center in east Tampa, said he is "very appreciative of whatever the community would like to contribute" toward Wintons Taylor's fund.
He is planning a larger benefit for her this spring at an area church.
"There's thousands of people that know her and that she touched," he said.
Taylor said his wife is in good spirits. He stays at her bedside from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. Daily, they recite Psalm 118:17.
I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.
"That's her testimony," Taylor said. "That's the word that God sent to heal her."
Rodney Thrash can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 269-5303.