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Empowering girls of color

Black educators promote literacy through five-week book club

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When the coronavirus lockdown went into effect in March, Moms Who Care, a Nassau County nonprofit, sought to find new ways to carry out its mission, to promote and empower minority communities in literacy, mental health awareness and environmental preservation. The group began a five-week mother-daughter book club at Harold J. Walker Memorial Park, in Lakeview, on July 18.

“We wanted to have that bonding time together between mothers and daughters, and have great conversations about positive self-image for our Black and brown daughters,” said Aisha Demosthenes, one of Moms Who Cares’ founders.

The club is reading the book “The Skin I’m In,” by Sharon Flake, which addresses colorism — discrimination based on skin color — self-identity and self-worth. The participants were given journals, for taking notes, and encouraged to discuss how they view beauty. They also cut photos out of magazines representing how they viewed themselves. Many chose images of Black women with natural hair.

“I think that shows how much representation matters,” said Deborah Jean, a co-founder of Moms Who Care. “It was so nice to see how everyone saw themselves, and it was very heartfelt.”

Sabine Jean-G, another co-founder, said she was impressed by the openness of the young girls in the book club. “It was great to see how comfortable they were in their own skin,” Jean-G said, “and to hear them share some of the same thoughts and experiences.”

The three founders of Moms Who Care are all Black educators who are originally from Haiti. They had worked together for the past three years as board members of Community Improvement and Development, a nonprofit based in New York that supports communities through sustainability projects, and created Moms Who Care a few months ago. Their first philanthropic effort came in 2017, when they donated more than 300 books to their home country shortly after it was devastated by Hurricane Matthew.

“We just felt like we should start promoting reading at home again,” said Demosthenes, a speech language pathologist who lives in Lakeview. “As educators, we knew that there are still young, impressionable minds out there. We want to help make sure that by the time they get to their 20s and 30s, they’re secure with who they are.”

In the months leading up to the creation of the mother-daughter book club, Moms Who Care dropped off books and self-care items to some of the domestic violence shelters it has worked with over the years. It also held a self-care meeting for women to discuss motherhood, and it plans to hold a similar discussion for men in August.

“I’m hoping to continue to bring awareness to mental health, especially among the different cultures,” said Jean-G, of Valley Stream, a guidance counselor in Brooklyn. “I know that in the Caribbean culture, mental health is not something that’s discussed very often, so we want to create an open dialogue. I would love for people to continue to share good resources on mental health.”

Jean, an applied behavior analysis therapist from North Babylon, said she looked forward to hearing the different opinions of girls in the book club. “I’d like to help utilize the information from these meetings so that they can execute it positively in their community,” she said. “All it takes is one person to make a difference.”

With the revitalization of the Black Lives Matter movement in recent months, Demosthenes said it has become increasingly important for Moms Who Care to continue its mission. “There’s still so much work for us to do,” she said. “We’re all in awe of this young generation that’s so unapologetic and outspoken. If we can continue to mold and shape them, there’s no telling what they can do when they become adults.”