C/O Jessica Yang

The Art Gallery of Burlington is creating a more inclusive world one book club discussion at a time 

By: Emma Shemko, contributor 

Hosted and facilitated by Jasmine Mander, the Art Gallery of Burlington’s new Echo Black, Indigenous and People of Colour book club works to create a safe, inclusive and accessible space for marginalized folks. The club prioritizes the lived experiences of BIPOC folks through reading and discussion of critical texts written by BIPOC authors. 

Currently the curatorial assistant at the AGB, Mander has worked at a number of art organizations over the years, including Hamilton Artists Inc., where she coordinated Incoming!, an initiative to address and support the needs of newcomer, immigrant and refugee artists.  

Mander is passionate about uplifting BIPOC voices and she wanted to create such a safe space for BIPOC folks to talk about their experiences and ideas, where they felt they could bring down their walls and share openly without fear of being judged. 

"[The book club] is an opportunity to come together, discuss as a group and unpack ideas. It's like learning together . . . Maybe you see somebody who looks like you and there's this sense of guard that's just dropped. And then, the more you get to know the people in the group, the more times people voice their opinions or their stories and really express themselves, you just grow more and are confident in being able to discuss your ideas," explained Mander. 

Echo’s reading list consists mainly of memoirs and personal accounts of BIPOC authors. Mander hopes book club attendees can see their experiences represented and feel seen and heard when reading these stories. 

The book club is geared towards youth aged 16-25, with the idea of facilitating the sharing of knowledge between generations and encouraging conversation around how BIPOC communities move forward with these histories.  

“A lot of the work and the knowledge that I've gained, I feel is super important to pass on to this next chapter in this next generation. You're passing on the knowledge. All the work that you've done is not lost, but you're investing in the youth so that you're providing them with spaces, mentorship and support," said Mander. 

At its heart, Echo is about creating safe spaces and part of that is ensuring the club itself is as accessible as possible. The monthly sessions are held online, eliminating the need for a commute. The online environment also allows participants to leave their cameras off and participate as much or as little as they wish. 

Mander also wanted to move away from the constraints of the average book club, encouraging readers of all levels and experiences to join and removing the usual obligation to finish the book before attending. Echo is about the quality of discussion over the quantity of books read, so participants are welcome to join monthly discussions even if they've only read a few pages. 

"I try to think about myself as a participant, I try to think if I was entering this conversation, how would I navigate it? . . . Part of that, for me, is encouraging people to be able to come and go in space as needed, based on their energy levels," said Mander. 

Additionally, Mander recognized the increasing cost of books might pose a barrier to some and to ensure Echo does not become a financial burden, a free physical copy of each month's book will be mailed to registered participants a month in advance. Participants are encouraged to sign up as early as possible as space is limited. 

The Echo book club is meant to be an inclusive space for all BIPOC community members and allies, offering the opportunity for them to learn and grow with these stories and to feel part of a community. 

"One of my key phrases and one that I always like to repeat in my mind over and over again is this: I want BIPOC folks to feel like they can go from a place of just surviving to thriving. I want to see that happen. And so this [book club] is my way of contributing a space to my community," said Mander. 

Echo will be launching April 25 at 6:30 p.m. with the discussion of Eternity Martis’ They Said This Would be Fun: Race, Campus Life and Growing Up

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