British Columbia

This student wants to create a library and cultural space for Vancouver's Black community

UBC student Maya Preshyon has started fundraising and collecting donated books with the goal of opening a library and community hub for Black and BIPOC people in Vancouver.

Maya Preshyon aims to raise $35K for the Vancouver Black Library, which she aims to set up in Hogan's Alley

Maya Preshyon and Simon Grefiel sort through books donated for the Vancouver Black Library. (Maya Preyshon/Vancouver Black Library)

A student at the University of British Columbia has started fundraising and collecting donated books with the goal of opening a library and community hub for Black and BIPOC people in Vancouver.

Maya Preshyon wants to open the Vancouver Black Library, the city's first library with a focus on books by Black and BIPOC authors. 

"Being a Black person in Vancouver without a cultural hub and a community of people to lean on, with the Black experience, it can be isolating. You can feel lonely," the 20-year-old student said.

Her friend, Simon Grefiel, helped come up with the idea of the library, which was inspired by Centre A, the Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, located in Chinatown. 

Centre A is primarily a gallery showcasing the work of emerging artists from Asia and the Asian diaspora in Canada, but it also has a reading room with a collection of Asian art books. 

"It's somewhere where I was connected to [the] Asian community," said Grefiel, who is Filipino. "... It's where friendships were formed and ideas were shared."

Preshyon wants the VBL to parallel what Centre A is doing and create, "a place where people can meet and connect with others who are like them, a place you can go and study, a place you can go and read and hang out."

That includes gallery space for Black artists and workshops for a range of skills.

"It really is intended to do everything on top of being a library that's community and culturally focused," said Preshyon, who is hoping to hire community members to help run the library.

Hogan's Alley location

While the project is still in its early stages and has yet to find a home, Preshyon says she would like to see the VBL located in or near Hogan's Alley, the historic Black neighbourhood that was demolished in the 1970s to make room for the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts.

"Since that was destroyed, there hasn't been a localization of community for Black people in Vancouver," she said.

"I was never taught about what happened with Hogan's Alley. I didn't know [the city] had a Black neighbourhood."

To help cover rent and operational costs, Preshyon started a GoFundMe campaign that raised more than $10,000 in less than two weeks, exceeding its original goal of $6,000.

She has since set a new goal of $35,000, which she hopes to raise by March to pay for a one-year lease for the library. 

"We have received support and donations from communities across B.C. What that says to me is there is a need for a much bigger space than we first envisioned," Preshyon said. 

'Something to celebrate'

Roslyn Chambers, a family lawyer who is of Métis and African-Nova Scotian descent, says providing resources on the history of Black people in Vancouver is vital.

"I think it's fantastic that someone so young is doing it. It's something to celebrate," Chambers said.

"It is even special that they are wanting to have it nearby Hogan's Alley. That legacy is really important for people to understand and know."

Chambers says she donated $1,500 toward the VBL project and says she'll continue to support it until its completion. 

In addition to donating money, people have also offered to host book drives to help fill the library's shelves, Preshyon said.

"We made a wish list with more than 150 titles of revolutionary texts and Black authors and BIPOC authors. People have been donating from bookstores and mailing it straight to us," she said. 

People across the province have already donated dozens of books by Black and BIPOC authors for the library, Preshyon says. (Maya Preshyon/Vancouver Black Library)

Cicely Belle Blain, founder of Bakau Consulting — an equity, inclusion and anti-racism organization — says offering access to literature by BIPOC authors can help foster a sense of community and give exposure to writers whose voices have been silenced or misrepresented.

"As a Black, queer-owned business ... we are always thrilled to see new Black-led initiatives introduced to the city," Blain told CBC News.

"To have a space where these resources are centreed is crucial to mobilizing communities and creating change."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said Roslyn Chambers was of Metis and African-Amercian descent. In fact she is of Metis and African-Nova Scotian descent.
    Feb 15, 2022 3:29 PM PT

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