A provincewide, year-long book club is about to be launched on P.E.I., and everyone is invited to join in by picking up a copy of Desmond Cole's The Skin We're In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power.
The club grew from an idea during February's Black History Month events at the University of Prince Edward Island. Organizers mulling a book club decided to expand it to all Islanders.
This is a perfect opportunity to read a book like this all together. — Yolanda Hood
"It just made sense, especially because so much has been going on in the past year concerning BIPOC people in Canada and of course the United States," said Yolanda Hood, the metaliteracy and student engagement librarian at UPEI.
"Right now there are so many people who want to learn more, and want to know more, about what's going on with BIPOC people in our community. This is a perfect opportunity to read a book like this all together."
They've formed a group called P.E.I. Community Reads, which can be found on Facebook, and the official launch will be March 16.
"We just became really excited and decided 'Yeah, let's do this!'" Hood said.
How will it work?
The club is seeking volunteers in communities across P.E.I. to help lead monthly chapter discussions. They've reached out to interest groups including P.E.I.'s Black Cultural Society and Indo Canadian Association of P.E.I. Meetings will be both virtual and face to face.
The book cataloguing injustice and anti-Black racism in Canada in 2017 is divided into months, with each telling a different story, so it's already perfectly portioned for a book club. Hood said everyone can start together on the March chapter in the book, but participants are welcome to read the first two chapters on their own.
"We thought that having it year-long would be a more comfortable pace for people and give them time to think about the book, the chapter, the experiences," Hood said.
She notes "it's a heavy book," and they wanted people to take time to process the information and experiences shared in it, and discuss it with others.
Why this 'heavy' book?
When Cole published it in February 2020, The Skin We're In immediately became one of the best-selling books in Canada, hitting bookshelves during Black Lives Matter marches and protests here and around the world.
It chronicles Cole's personal journalism, activism and experiences alongside stories that made headlines across the country, including refugees crossing the Canada-U.S. border in the middle of winter and the death of Somali-Canadian Abdirahman Abdi at the hands of the Ottawa police.
"So often we — we meaning Canada — like to look at the U.S. and say gosh, it's so horrible over there! Look at the horrible things Americans are doing to BIPOC people!" Hood said. "It's very easy for us to overlook the fact that these same things are happening, unfortunately, in Canada."
Cole's consistent linking of individual experiences back to systemic racism will lead readers to consider how racism has been woven into the fabric of modern North America.
"Those systems that have been put in place, were put in place because of white supremacy, and to hurt a group of people in order to reward another group of people," Hood said.
Desmond Cole says choice unexpected
Cole, 38, said he is honoured his book was chosen for the club, calling the news unexpected and "heartwarming."
What does he hope Islanders take away from The Skin We're In?
"I hope that they see the stories that I am talking about reflected in their own communities and their own lives," he said.
"I also hope that if they've been hearing Black people, Indigenous people and others in their communities talking about these issues, and dismissed that before — didn't inquire, didn't understand why people were talking about those issues in Prince Edward Island — I hope they'll take a second look at that now."
He said P.E.I., in common with the rest of Canada, has a history of colonialism and anti-Blackness that he'd like to see people learn about, "not running from it, not feeling defensive or in denial about it, but really just confronting it and beginning to grapple with that history that is affecting all of us today."
The book club has invited Cole to come to P.E.I. when possible, and he said he is eager to come to discuss the book and meet with P.E.I.'s Black community.
How will people get their hands on the book?
P.E.I.'s Public Library will provide community leaders with some book club kits, which include eight to 10 books, and librarians have ordered extra copies for borrowers. Hood said they're hoping to be able to lend electronic copies of the book too.
The club will also get a hand from the Rotary Club of Charlottetown and UPEI's Rotaract Club, which will each donate some books to those who can't afford the $29.95 cost. Hood said people can contact her through the P.E.I. Community Reads Facebook page and she will arrange to get them a copy.
This information in this book, these experiences, they matter to all of us. — Yolanda Hood
UPEI's library has stocked extra copies, and Hood said anyone with a P.E.I. library card can borrow them.
The Bookmark in Charlottetown will give a 15-per-cent discount to customers who indicate they are taking part in this book club.
"We always think of P.E.I. as this warm community that's kind to each other," Hood said. "And you know, we've heard a lot of brown people in various venues speak about the fact that that's not really always the case."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
More from CBC P.E.I.