Montreal·Black Changemakers

They created a space for Black girls to read together and share their experiences

The idea behind creating the Montreal book club Black Girls Gather, its founders say, was to make something they wish had existed when they were younger.

Black Girls Gather helps members build self-esteem and find a sense of belonging

Mariame Touré and Fabiola Ngamaleu Teumeni say their book club, Black Girls Gather, is about building self-esteem, learning to love themselves more and developing an attachment to Black culture. (Yasmeen Souffrant)

CBC Quebec is highlighting people from the province's Black communities who are giving back, inspiring others and helping to shape our future. These are the Black Changemakers.

The idea behind creating the Montreal book club Black Girls Gather, its founders say, was to make something they wish had existed when they were younger.

"I was usually at home reading, or at the library alone. And it's lonely sometimes," said Fabiola Ngamaleu Teumeni, who along with Mariame Touré created the club last year in partnership with the West Island Black Community Association.

The two met when Touré was tutoring Teumeni at a predominantly white high school in Montreal. Teumeni is now studying psychology in CEGEP, while Touré is a law student at Université de Montréal.

"Like many visible minority students in these types of institutions, we didn't feel represented within our cohort or within the literature that we studied," said Touré.

In the classroom, the Harper Lee novel To Kill a Mockingbird might typically be chosen to examine the unequal treatment of people by the justice system. Black Girls Gather opted for a more contemporary selection: Monday's Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson.

The book club is split into two groups of about 10 girls, one for ages 12 to 14 and another for those 15 to 18. Each month they read a book that "centres us," said Teumeni, and hold a related workshop.

'Black women and Black girls are often forgotten'

While it's the reading that brings the girls together, their discussions go well beyond what's written on the page. It's a jumping-off point to discuss experiences from their own lives.

"We often see spaces like these created for Black boys, but Black women and Black girls are often forgotten. And it hurts," said Teumeni.

In May, their workshop is based around Black hair — its history and how to care for it.

"Through these types of activities they become more open about their experience, about their insecurities and we kind of affirm their beauty," said Touré.

"We remind them that no matter what people say, you are beautiful, you do matter, you are more than enough."

The book club also creates a safe space for the girls to bring up things they would otherwise not be comfortable discussing. It launched in the fall, when the use of the N-word in academic contexts was being debated across Quebec.

Touré said the book club gave the girls a place to talk about how they felt, and to bring up incidents they had witnessed in their schools.

She said the group is about building self-esteem, learning to love themselves more and developing an attachment to Black culture.

"All we talk about is what we experience as Black women," said Touré. "You do feel this sense of, 'I am Black enough.… I can be Black and a million other things and still be proud of it.'"

Black Girls Gather helps teens connect to Black culture through books

CBC News Montreal

3 months ago
7:17
Mariame Touré and Fabiola Ngamaleu Teumeni wished they had a space to connect to Black culture in high school—so they created their own. CBC Montreal’s Debra Arbec speaks with the founders of Black Girls Gather about how they’ve helped young women navigate their identities. 7:17

The Black Changemakers is a special series recognizing individuals who, regardless of background or industry, are driven to create a positive impact in their community. From tackling problems to showing small gestures of kindness on a daily basis, these changemakers are making a difference and inspiring others. Read more stories here.

With files from Maya Lach-Aidelbaum

now