By: Gurleen Aujla, Peak Associate
Maya Preshyon is at the forefront of an exciting and much-needed initiative to create the Vancouver Black Library (VBL). “I wanted for a long time to make a space that can fulfill community advocacy needs,” said Preshyon. She hopes VBL will “address the lack of community for Black people, specifically in Vancouver.”
Preshyon, who is Zimbabwean and Indigenous, came up with the idea for VBL while pursuing a double major in social work and Indigenous studies.
“I never thought that I would be at the forefront of an organization that’s pursuing change,” they said. However, finding it difficult to make substantial change in the local arts scene, they felt compelled to take action. “I started it not because I felt called to, but because I was so frustrated with not seeing the kind of changes I wanted to see,” Preshyon said.
The VBL will prioritize the needs of the Black community. Run by Black organizers, the library will serve as a safe space for Black and BIPOC community members to connect with each other and borrow books. It aims to become a launchpad for initiatives such as group therapy, poetry readings, and more. As for VBL’s first event, Preshyon intends to draw on her work organizing music festivals and her interest in DJing to host a soft launch karaoke party.
Preshyon hopes the library will operate from the Hogan’s Alley area in Strathcona. This would pay homage to the Black community that took root there. Efforts are being made to revitalize the neighbourhood after its dismantling in 1970 with the construction of the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts. However, Preshyon believes Vancouver is behind in terms of creating the infrastructure and localization of meaningful community support. “The effects of that are noticeable by every Black person,” she said.
Speaking about VBL as part of a larger movement, Preshyon said marginalized groups need to continue mobilizing within themselves to form and share knowledge and infrastructure. They discussed how, since 2020, they’ve seen “clusters of people coming together, not just because of shared struggles but [also] celebrating shared joys.
“It’s important to bring people together who cross paths but never really connect; that connectivity is a resource, and the more people are connected to it, the stronger the resource is.”
Funding will be put towards “paying rent for an accessible space that is large enough to house all the books that the community has requested and large enough to be a communal space.” Funds will also be used to compensate people for their operational support and for running workshops and programming, while keeping these offerings free to the public.
Book donations can be dropped off (more information online) or accepted through their partnership with Massy Books. Massy Books will take used books or allow supporters to purchase books off of VBL’s wishlist at a discounted price. VBL has launched a toolkit to assist any group, including student clubs, organizations, and businesses interested in hosting their own book drive for VBL.
Currently, their online database, featuring a PDF collection of books, is available to any member of the public for free.