A little over five years ago, Kinship co-founders Tenecia Phillips and Dana Moore had an idea: what if there was a group of black employees at the Pima County Public Library (of which there were already very few) whose purpose was not just to provide dedicated outreach to external and internal library services? communities, but also to try to build the presence of black library staff – both by helping to increase the numbers and by providing mentorship, guidance and community to a core of people willing to do the job.
After a few informal conversations with other potential members of this group, there was a long planning session to establish the formal mission and goals of the group, and develop the rationale for the team’s existence. We thought a lot about what we would be interested in and what we would be willing and able to do as staff members who all had dedicated jobs outside of this team. With thoughts of family and community, plus a nod to the great Octavia E. Butler, Kindred was born.
People also read…
Since then, members have come and gone, but the main mission has remained the same: to join, support and celebrate the black community.
And we’ve worked hard to do it in a way that the Pima County Public Library hasn’t done before.
From the start, the main objectives were external. Events were coordinated at Pima County Library branches, but we also tried to reach out to the community. We have partnered with the Dunbar Pavilion, an African-American cultural and arts center in historic Dunbar, to house library programs led by experts and connoisseurs of Tucson’s Black history and present. The Dunbar Historic District – along with the area around the Quincie Douglas Library – is one of the few neighborhoods where black Tucson residents were not only encouraged, but allowed to live in the early days, and where many continue to reside . We went to schools for TUSD’s annual Black History Month reading, and worked to not only bring local black stories to Pima County residents, but also provide personal health programs, starting a business and researching local black people. community.
Once the band was settled, the first effort to stretch their legs took the form of One book, one community. Instead of using the book from which our name was inspired, we opted for another title by Octavia E. Butler: “The Parable of the Sower”, an ever-important book about an ever closer and more possible future. and the young black woman who survives through her. We had some amazing conversations in person and via Twitter – with no idea that the project that would come out of it would go live, never to return.
When the pandemic lockdown hit in March 2020, Kindred had a new business planned. A quarterly book club grew out of the questions asked during those OBOC conversations in which so many people wanted to be able to come back to the table (so to speak) and discuss books by black authors on all sorts of topics. Our plan was to share several titles on a theme, much like the Rainbow reads book club does the odd months. But when we realized no one would be talking about books face-to-face for an indefinite time, we pivoted that first Facebook meeting. As Kindred has a dedicated Facebook page, we used this space to collect some people’s favorite books on our first topic: Black Women. Over the next quarter, we were able to hold Zoom meetings and invite members of the public, so we held our first Read Black Pride event, where we shared books from black members of the LGBTQ+ community. In September, we had the same kind of discussion about Afro-Latin books, and our December meeting would have been about new books coming out that year, but alas, the circumstances.
What we heard from everyone involved was that they wanted more. They wanted to talk about a specific book and dig into it, and I was happy to do that. So, in 2021, we created read black as a monthly book club, always taking a break in June for Read Black Pride and December for our preview of new books we’ve loved. We discussed hard non-fiction and fluffy romance novels, cozy mysteries and contemporary fantasy. Some books were a bit of a dud, and others sparked unforgettable conversations. Some participants are confined to their homes, while others are only in town part of the year. Some are retired, others are in high school. Everyone comes out of every discussion with something to think about. And even if we start having more in-person programs, hopefully we’ll be able to find a way to bring those same kinds of conversations to people who can’t come into the building once a month.
As we look forward to the next five years, I hope we can continue to host these life-changing literary events, whether it’s hosting book talks or sponsoring a discussion with a local university at Tucson Book Festival. We will continue to work on internal goals, including mentoring new Black staff and providing resources to veteran staff. But I hope we will also continue to do projects like our most recent, Our Story: A Community of Color Curation Project. We will be able to provide underrepresented communities in Pima County with amenities and education to help them preserve the stories and memories that families and communities are losing as we lose our elders.
And no matter what, we’ll be there to join, support and celebrate each other and the community. Family style.
Jessica Pryde has worked at the Pima County Public Library since 2015. She is the Adult Fiction Selector in the Office of Collections Development. Her book, “Black Love Matters,” was released in February. She contributes to Book Riot and co-hosts the When in Romance podcast.