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New Project

Nicole Mateo & Amber Rahman

Girl RPRSNTD

New York

Girl RPRSNTED is a proposed book club and online community to highlight books that represent minority authors, marginalized stories, and topics important to young women today so that all voices can be heard and shared. They want the online platform to provide accessible PDF versions of the books, livestreams and discussions with authors and book club members, a book subscription box, and reflections on the books. Nicole and Amber will use the grant money to launch their website and provide book subscription boxes to schools starting in New York and eventually the country.

Updates from Nicole and Amber


July, 2019
Amber
Reading is the lens through which I try to make sense of the world around me. I have always held on to reading as a way to bring me to another world, to transcend my reality. Books are an exercise in the depth of humanity. The stories, the characters, the phrases that are underlined permanently in our minds fundamentally shape our perspectives, our worldview. The act of reading has a profound effect on the individual mind, the soul. The books we hold on to, reread, remember, have a purpose that is too immaterial to have a material value. I have learned that reading is such a raw and personal experience that provides the capacity for people to engage with each other, with themselves, and the world. As I’ve been jolted awake to the overwhelming injustices of our world, systems of oppression that traffic within and across the eight social identifiers of race, religion, socio-economic status, ability, family structure, sexual orientation, gender, and age, I’ve looked for words to guide me when my own have failed. I often reference Zadie Smith’s brilliant observation: “you can’t fight for a freedom you’ve forgotten how to identify.” Reading is my way of attempting to identify what true freedom is, and it is through the revolutionary texts of James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Zadie Smith, Arundhati Roy, and many many more that I have been able to regain a sense of hope. Hope that one day we will have justice.

The words of the books I have frantically, urgently scribbled along the margins of have given me perspective. Perspective that has taken my worldview from my mere sixteen years of life to multitudes of lifetimes of experiences. Experiences of struggle, oppression, liberation, hopelessness, hopefulness. Experiences that have taught me empathy in the most visceral sense.

It is so important to recognize the role that race, racial hierarchy, and assimilation play in our daily lives, schools, and communities. James Baldwin writes in “The Fire Next Time”: “In those days, not so very long ago… the priests of that church which stands in Rome gave God’s blessing to Italian boys being sent out to ravage a defenseless Black country—which until that event, incidentally, had not considered itself to be black.” Colonialism and its role in the creation of race to justify exploitation and murder, I believe, is extremely necessary to learn about because of legacies of colonialism that dictate our society today. There are real, tangible effects on those who are ignored, oppressed, marginalized in our society. We need to highlight those voices: silence is deadly.

I was privileged to have read some of these texts at my school. I am also lucky to have found many of these books on my own, and shared them with everyone around me. But this gift is not accessible to everyone.

Nicole
It’s been five years since Barnes and Noble closed its one and only location in the Bronx, the borough I’m from. Books play a vital role in a child's development, and it doesn’t stop there, it continues to benefit them onto their teen and adult lives, so the Bronx losing its access to books makes it so that the kids in these neighborhoods don’t have intellectual accessibility. The closing of this general bookstore chain plays a key factor in the literacy levels of the residents in this borough and in the education divide we continue to experience across the five boroughs.

Luckily for us, Noëlle Santos, a fellow Afro-Latina, opened up the very first independently owned bookstore in the Bronx, The Lit. Bar, launched in the fall of 2018. When the Co-Op City Barnes and Noble was set to close, outrage arose. Many people advocated to save the bookstore and managed to keep it open for another two years until it's inevitable close. At the time, there were 90 bookstores in Manhattan, and essentially one book store in the Bronx. This is why Santos opened up her book store—to better support the community she came from. Many people would say the reason Barnes and Nobles closed is because the people of this demographic and the residents of this borough did not support it. However, if this were true, Santos wouldn’t have raised $170,000 through her crowdfunding campaign. The people of the Bronx evidently support this campaign because our stories matter.

A potential partnership with an independently owned bookstore like the Lit. Bar would be an amazing opportunity. Not only would we partner with a bookstore owned by a woman, we’d be partnering with one owned by an empowered driven woman of color. How much better can it get? Of course, these are only tentative plans, however, it does sound kind of perfect doesn’t it? The Lit. Bar embodies many of the same messages Amber and I are trying to spread with Girl RPRSNTD. Here, we value the power in numbers, the more we are able to mobilize and share our stories, the more of an impact we can make by celebrating the representation we deserve. Their mission is: “To create a haven that inspires reading, encourages healthy social interaction, highlights diverse voices, and increases intellectual visibility in the Bronx.” If this doesn’t connect with our mission I don’t know what does. A “haven” as the Lit. Bar puts it, is what Girl RPRSNTD would aim to replicate in our book clubs. A physical setting, a haven, where readers alike can discuss and truly connect the stories they read with themselves and others, allowing fellow RPRSNTD members to make the most out of the connections they are forming with fellow book club members. This enforces the idea of having a safe space for readers to have a sense of belonging and inclusion. Working with independently owned bookstores is ideal for the work Amber and I are hoping to do. There, we could host author events, book club meetings, and talks about why representation in books is so important (RPRSNTDLitTalks). All of these provisional plans would, of course, be free, ensuring that everyone, including residents of all five boroughs, have the opportunity to attend events that reinforce what it means to be #RPRSNTD.

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Arundhati Roy writes, “There's really no such thing as the 'voiceless'. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” To us, this means that it is our responsibility to use our privilege to decenter whiteness and bring marginalized voices to the center. Over the past year, Amber has been working as a Co-Head of the Cultural Awareness for Everyone (CAFE) Club at her school to create a book club to read texts of minority authors and discuss their relevance in our society. She wanted to create a space to amplify the voices of the silenced. We need to read about the construct of race in order to contextualize the systems of institutionalized racism that have tangible impacts on individuals. As the founder of TYWLS East Harlem’s very first book club, LIT Club, pun intended, Nicole does much of the same work Amber at CAFE Club does. All members vote on a selection of books Nicole curates, which are either made by people like us, or made by them. And now, we have the honor of bringing the power of reading underrepresented voices to high-schoolers across the country. Representation is essential for teens to be exposed to in literature because so often our curriculums lack this very important value. By creating a space to celebrate stories, struggles, and messages of the underrepresented, we are taking a step towards decolonizing the ideology that controls our western education systems. Transformative perspective has the immense power of shaping our own perceptions which will impact every aspect of our lives.

We are going to create a space to amplify the voices of the silenced.

We are GIRL RPRSNTD.

Stay tuned for a timeline for the GIRL RPRSNTD launch soon!