Many of us are familiar with the saying, if you want to hide something from Black people put it in a book. Tamela Todd is ensuring young Black girls in Detroit acquire the knowledge they need in order to flourish. Last year, she made the change she wanted to see in her community by founding the Brown Girls Read book club. BGR isn’t your traditional let’s-read-a-book-and-discuss-it book club. Along with using questionnaires to facilitate discussions, the girls learn essential life skills. Topics such as STEM, etiquette, financial literacy, vision boards and college prep are explored.
Akin to the revelations we discover while reading, Todd was amazed to learn that many parents were not aware of the main Detroit Public Library’s location. This deepened her determination to empower young girls to explore the world beyond their immediate environment. The wife, mother and aspiring author is a prime example of what it means to raise our children in a village. “I treat each of these girls like they’re my own,” she said.
How did you get started? Where did you start?
I took my daughter to the library and enrolled her in a book club. [There were] seven kids — boys and girls — and she was the only Black child in the book club. I was amazed that she was the only Black child when her school had been promoting this book club over and over again. And they promoted it at the library. That’s what made me start Brown Girls Read. I started with my daughter and five of her friends, in my backyard. We did it just to see how they’d react to it, and then they wanted to invite more friends. It started getting out of control, and that’s when we went to the Northwest Activities Center.
We had like 35 girls that joined just from promoting on social media. This year, we have 45. I added facilitators coming in, doing themes each month, making sure the book is based off that theme, and the theme is based [on] the facilitator’s program. With the workshops plus the reading, they’re more motivated because kids’ attention spans are very [short] these days. You can’t just say, “Here’s a book.” We’re a book club with a twist, ’cause you’re gonna have fun.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?
Sponsorship. Grants. It seems so hard getting someone to sponsor our books. The Detroit Public Library has been absolutely wonderful in sponsoring our location as well as my PR. As far as grants, everything is funded [by] me and my husband. We have yet to receive a grant and I’m still wondering why. I also learned that you can’t collaborate with everybody.
What determined the age ranges for the groups?
I researched the bookstores and how their books are marketed. If you go in the bookstores, you’ll see the children’s section is separated by ages. My program director works at a school, and I brought her on board so she can help decipher what books the girls should read. She’s a reading specialist, and she’s done a great job separating the age groups with the correct literature. I have 22 girls in the Sunshine group, which is ages 7-11, and 20 that [are] registered in the Cuties group, which is ages 12-15. I do have some 11-year-olds that are in the older group depending on their birth date and reading skills. We work with the parents on placing their child with the correct group.
Describe your plans for the future.
Things for the future are field trips. That’s what I’m excited about. What I’m working on now is doing a movie theater fundraiser/field trip which will include the parents as well. We’re planning to rent out the theater, do a raffle. That type of sponsorship is no problem. We’re also planning college tours as well. I’m going to try these two field trips out first to see how they go, then we’ll do more throughout the year. We are going to do community activities, such as adopting orphans, donating things like gloves, hats, scarves, that way they’ll learn how to give back instead of always expressing a “want.” May is Cancer Awareness Month, so we’re going to wear pink shirts, with brown and silver.
A Brown Girls Read membership is an affordable $60 per year (September-June). It includes nine books the girls can keep, workshops, field trips and community volunteering opportunities. Visit https://www.browngirlsread.org/ to learn more about joining and/or supporting this phenomenal organization.