What’s an activist? What’s an abolitionist? Where is the Underground Railroad? Did slaves also escape to Mexico?
These were some of the many questions posed and discussed during a recent gathering of the Anti-Racist Book Club for Kids, hosted by Louisa natives Merenda Cecelia and Kia Sims.
The book club, geared toward children ages five to 12, takes place on Zoom every Sunday from 3 to 4 p.m. It is a seven-week event, with the last meeting on Aug. 23. Older siblings and adults are also welcome.
“I think it’s important to address the fact that it [the world] is scary right now for us all,” Sims said. “The book club just provides a place where we can talk about tough subjects, but we can giggle too.”
The book club this past Sunday had 25 participants, including children and adults.
Cecelia was inspired to start the book club by the current movement to address systemic racism and the challenge of answering difficult questions about these topics as a mother.
“Because of the social revolution that we’re in right now started, there is a lot on the news, and I’m trying to figure out how to speak to my son about these topics,” Cecelia said. “I wanted it [the book club] to be super inclusive and not hesitate to talk about hard things in history.”
In Sunday’s book club, for example, Dr. Camilla Nonterah, an assistant professor of health psychology at the University of Richmond, read stories about Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman and Mary Bowser, three Black female leaders from U.S. history who played important roles in the abolitionist movement. Next week, a guest speaker will read from the book “Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut,” by Derrick Barnes, which has received recognition for its celebration of Black boys.
Cecelia secured funding from Yanceyville Christian Church to cover the cost of the books and a small stipend for guest readers, and asked Sims to help her host the event and facilitate discussions. Although the church sponsors the book club, the club itself is not religious.
“The discussion is not promoting a specific religious doctrine,” Cecelia said. “We have people from different faiths joining us. It’s not about religion—it’s about race.”
Both Cecelia and Sims recognize that addressing topics such as racism and social justice can be uncomfortable and challenging for parents. They say that it’s OK for parents to admit they don’t always have the answers.
“If you don’t have the answers, say that to your kids,” Sims said. “I’m all about being honest with your kids. They’re so much smarter than we give them credit for. If you don’t know, say I don’t know, but let’s find out together.”
Cecelia and Sims started the book club to create a safe space for children to learn and ask questions about topics relating to racism, allyship and social justice.
“By talking to children, we learn a lot of stuff,” Sims said. “We need to start from a very elementary level so that nobody feels overwhelmed.”
In the future, Sims hopes to continue the book club and is considering starting one for adults. Until then, adults are welcome to join the one for children and might even be surprised what they find out.
And yes, slaves also escaped to Mexico: The Underground Railroad ran south as well as north.
Information about the book club can be found on the group’s Facebook page, including how to join via Zoom.