The Vancouver Black Library (VBL), located on the basement floor of the Sun Wah Centre in Chinatown, is a safe space dedicated to BIPOC people. Founder Maya Preshyon opened the library as a place for people to sign out books for free, chill, study, and meet others in their community.
“Maya always says [the library] started on a random Thursday, because she was feeling kind of dejected as a Black member of Vancouver,” says Etaremi Brisibe, director of communications for the Vancouver Black Library.
“There are not a lot of spaces curated for Black people, and so I think she was looking to fill a much needed hole in Vancouver.”
Hogan’s Alley, a neighbourhood in Strathcona, was historically home to many Black Canadians and a vibrant community. About 50 years ago, construction for the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts began which ran right through Hogan’s Alley, forcing Black Vancouverites to split up and effectively putting an end to the community space.
The Vancouver Black Library, along with other organizations like the Hogan’s Alley Society, Massy’s Books, and Black Women Connect Vancouver, are focusing on rebuilding this connection among Black people in Vancouver.
When the library first opened, Brisibe says there were immediate positive reactions.
“People really came out and showed their support and donated, sent books, which was just so amazing,” she says.
“We got a ton of positive feedback from people who were saying, ‘I’ve been looking for something like this since I’ve been here’ or ‘I’m in my 40s and I’ve never seen anything like this’ or ‘I can’t wait to bring my kids here.’”
Brisibe says there were also negative reactions to its opening, such as people not understanding its purpose and feeling hostile to an environment that isn’t white centred.
“It can be constant but I think it’s a very small portion of the feedback we’ve received, and we’re just thankful for the positive ones,” she says.
The library recognizes the impact it’s made on the local community with the amount of parents and children coming into the safe space and high school students from Black Connections, a club that works to highlight, cultivate, and educate about Black culture in Abbotsford, coming to learn and explore.
“I distinctly remember these two older women who … came into VBL and we sat for two hours listening to their stories, and listened to all the things they’ve been doing in Vancouver. That isn’t published, that isn’t anywhere,” Brisibe says. “Stories die when you don’t tell them.”
Currently, the library is working with Black Void UBC, a campaign pushing for Black liberation through Black education, to encourage the University of British Columbia to offer African studies as a major.
“[This] major, top 10 university is the only one that doesn’t have [African studies] as a major, which we think is frankly quite sad and unacceptable,” Brisibe says.
Kwantlen Polytechnic University currently does not offer an African studies major, minor, or certificate. Simon Fraser University offers a certificate in African studies. The University of Toronto offers a major and a minor in African studies.
More information about the Vancouver Black Library, upcoming events, and how to get involved, is available on their website.