After opening Comma Bookstore and Social Hub in 2020, founder Egypt Otis, ’20, quickly established the downtown Flint storefront as a destination for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) literature, community programming, and sustainable merchandise throughout the state. This values-first approach has garnered national recognition for both Comma and Otis, as the UM-Flint alum was recently featured in Mastercard’s “Wakanda Forever” commercial, part of the company’s Strivers Initiative that highlights Black female-owned businesses.
Despite taking so naturally to the role of Flint’s only Black, female bookstore owner, Otis explains that it is an outcome that would seem quite unlikely to her younger self.
“I was not someone who had a passion for reading from an early age. I was a single mom and worked full time. I was a high school dropout,” Otis said, proud of the experiences that shaped her future. “I came from a background where college wasn’t necessarily the goal for me.”
Informed by her experiences growing up on the north side of Flint and equipped with a GED and a desire to learn more about the world around her, Otis found UM-Flint’s political science program and flourished. She was particularly motivated by Peggy Kahn, professor emerita of political science, who gave Otis the tools to succeed in a university setting and opened up the world of reading to the budding bibliophile.
“[Peggy Kahn] saw that I was head of household and working while going to school. She really accommodated me and looked at me as an individual and a student, and not just a learning robot who needs to perform,” Otis said. “She started giving me books to read outside of class — that sparked a passion that I never knew existed. My life really changed after that.”
In addition to books written by BIPOC authors, Comma also offers a selection of culturally driven merchandise (like “Reading is the new Black” tote bags and Angela Davis hoodies) and environmentally conscious items. Otis’s fiancé, Dorian Jackson, runs The Natroil Company, which offers socially sourced grooming products that retail at Comma.
Events are another staple at the bookstore, offering regular reading circles for children and inviting authors to share their work with the community. This February, the public viewed African American artifacts from the 1600s through today thanks to an exhibit from The True Black History Museum that was hosted at the location. Otis sees events like these as an opportunity to educate and inspire others.
“We want to build a sense of community connectedness and bridge an important gap between literature and multiculturalism,” she said. “I think one of the best ways you can do that is through the celebration of one’s culture and learning about our experiences. I’m so grateful that people have come to rely on Comma as a home for receiving that enrichment and connection.”
Logan McGrady, ’13, is the marketing and digital communications manager for the University of Michigan-Flint. He is also a former assistant editor of Michigan Alum magazine.