Black Moms Connection turning online safe space into real-world force

Two years ago, Tanya Hayles filled a void for mothers of colour by founding the Black Moms Connection, an online safe space to discuss race-related issues. This weekend, she's turning that space physical with the group's first annual conference.

The first annual conference in Toronto aims to address issues specific to mothers of colour

Tanya Hayles founded the Black Moms Connection in 2015 because she wanted a support system. The group now has more than 7,000 members worldwide. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

Two years ago, Tanya Hayles scoured online groups looking for child-rearing support and advice for raising her son.

But failing to find answers to simple questions — like what kind of sunscreen to buy or how to handle chlorine-soaked hair after a day at the pool — prompted her to start her own group instead.

"When I looked around the demographics, I realized it was going to be a challenge" to get the kind of answers she sought, Hayles said, including finding support for race-related issues like how to handle racially-motivated aggression.

To fill that void, Hayles founded the Black Moms Connection, a safe online space where mothers of colour could figure out everyday challenges like hair products while helping each other navigate complex situations.

Now boasting over 7,000 members, the Black Moms Connection is holding its first annual conference in Toronto. What started with a question about skincare for her son has evolved into an education and support network for mothers keen to learn and teach about wellness, relationships, education and finance.

Hayles said she's expecting over 100 mothers at Sunday's conference — a full house for the 918 Bathurst Centre for Culture, Arts, Media and Education.

The Black Moms Connection will host its first annual conference this weekend, focusing on issues specific to mothers of colour. (Supplied by Black Moms Connection)

"People flock to things where they see themselves reflected," Hayles said of the group's steep rise in popularity. "It just happens to be that the skin colour of BMC is different than other mom groups."

When a mother finds her child facing racial slurs in schools, she can turn to the group for support, Hayles said. "We just rally around the mom. We know it's something that could potentially happen to any of us."

Besides corralling the perspectives of other black mothers, Hayles said, the online group serves another purpose: it gives women a safe space to talk about race-related issues.

"Any time race comes up, it gets people's backs up automatically. It can devolve into gaslighting. 'Oh, you're blowing things out of proportion. You're playing the race card,'" she said. "There are situations where it is about race and we need a space where we can have those raw, honest conversations."

With members in Canada and as far away as Japan, Nigeria and Australia, Hayles said she envisions a rebirth of the tight-knit community she remembers as a child, when all mothers in the neighbourhood became "aunties" to each other's kids.

"I really want to recreate the village that it takes to raise children," she said. "When you can help a mom raise her kids, you help the family, you help the community."