IMAGINE being in a highly intellectual and congenial space where everyone gathering participates in discussions about books that are centered around a rich, beautiful, and American culture that is Blackness. IMAGINE being safe, warm, and nurturing while exploring and expanding your mental capacity through the gift of books written by Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC). IMAGINE there being a strong sense of community within every discourse and the wages of these conversations is more in-depth knowledge, respect, and honor for the brilliant and boisterous expression that is Black culture.
Sounds like magic, right? Well, believe me when I say that Reading While Black Book Club on Clubhouse is all of this magic described and more! J. Edward Barnes, the moderator and founder of this club, fosters a creative and welcoming space for Black book lovers to listen to, read aloud, dissect and discuss Black American literature. Inside of this club, authors and readers come together to celebrate the writing process, ask questions and build a community designed to celebrate Black literature and the Black people who love and live the stories within Black literature.
The Birth of Reading While Black Book Club
According to J., the Reading While Black Book Club (RWB) was formulated well before Clubhouse was a thing. He stated, “After the 2016 election, I was looking for a way to bring myself joy in the midst of political chaos while in community with Black people digitally.” With a tweet, this community was born. As far as the name is concerned, J. said, ” the name came from seeing so many Black people experience violence for just existing while [being] Black. So, my best friend and I said why not ‘Reading While Black’ flipping it into something positive and RWB was born.”
As a part of his why, J. explains a circumstance that highlighted to me and amplified why this club is important and why, in my opinion, this space is necessary on platforms like Clubhouse.
When I was still living in Montgomery working for the Southern Poverty Law Center as a re-enfranchisement outreach fellow, I had the opportunity to connect with young men at a symposium where I was teaching them about voting rights. Before my presentation, a young man (no older than 14), asked if I could step outside and speak with him for a moment and he told me that he couldn’t read. In that moment my heart sank to my stomach and that evening when I got home, I cried like never before. After that symposium, I started making routine visits in my personal time and started to ask them what they were reading? Many of them couldn’t answer the question so I teamed up with a few of the teachers on that campus to bring RWB to those young men.J. Edward Barnes
With stories like this, it makes sense to me why this club is so important to J. and why being on Clubhouse helps to further his sincere and resonating mission of RWB. The joy of reading has to translate to our younger generation. There is an adage that says that if you want to hide information from someone, put that information in a book. This club seeks to uncover what some people have “hidden” in those books in plain sight! As an educator, I can respect and celebrate that!
What I Experienced While Visiting Reading While Black
I was excited to go to this particular room in preparation for this blog. I had been to RWB spaces several times before then, so I knew what I was going to get. I call myself a “functional nerd” and learning about things that I don’t already know intrigue me. Every time I enter into a RWB space, I learn something new about my own history as a Black person. For me, THAT is the prize and one of my favorite things about RWB. To hear it from J. “This February’s books of the month were all books that had been on my shelf for months and some of them years. I wanted to challenge myself as well as other readers to read 10 books in the shortest month of the year. Granted, it was ambitious and a little crazy, but it let them know that though this seems like a heavy load, when we are lifting together in community and holding each other accountable, the task is much simpler.” The book that was being discussed during my visit was How to Fight Racism by Jemar Tisby. On this visit, it was the second installment of a larger series of discussions. J. played the audio version of the book and upon completion, opened the stage for relevant and purposeful dialogue around central themes, messages and takeaways from the book. As I walked into this meeting, the RWB community was engaging in a robust conversation around religion, racism and the nuance of the intersectionality of race and faith. At times, J. would also playback some key quotes from the read-aloud and evoke conversation through questioning and then continue driving the discussion by suggesting connected books for the community to read in the future. I was delighted and felt at home seeing the critical thinking and nuanced discussions that took place with a gathering of intelligent and engaged Black people. Everyone had an opportunity be heard and even when there was debate, all sides were honored and no one was disrespected or disregarded. This was exactly the way J. designed the RWB club to be and his moderation of the room helped the discussion remain fluid, fun and ongoing throughout.
The RWB Book List for February 2021
These are the TEN books that J. bravely and purposefully selected for his club’s reading joy and information for the month of February!
Some of these authors (Jemar Tisby, Resmaa Manakem & Alex Vitale thus far) were able to come and visit the Clubhouse rooms during these discussions this month. Kiese Laymon is scheduled to be in the RWB clubhouse room on Tuesday, March 2. Having these authors there only added to the richness of the conversations because the readers were able to pick the brains of and get real-time responses from the people writing the books!
A Quick Chat with J. Edward Barnes
I asked J. a few additional questions about himself and the RWB club so that you can get to know the man behind this beautiful space and how you can show support.
- As a clubhouse user/influencer, what are you hoping your voice and this club lends to the overall Clubhouse community?
I hope my voice is helping create a community that participates in recreational reading and celebrates are Black literary superheroes the way they should be celebrated. I want to curate a community that actively listens to another; a community that has dialogue and not duplicate; a community that promotes mental health awareness; a community that is unlearning the harmful practices of the past we used for survival; a community that is not only reading these books but using them to help change the material conditions of our lives and; a community that all Black people feel welcomed, centered and safe.
2. How can Clubhousers support J. Edward Barnes on and off the Clubhouse App?
Well for starters, RWB is fundraising to make sure we can give people the best experience possible on Clubhouse and the podcast that we’ll begin recording soon on Clubhouse. That means purchasing better equipment, purchasing audiobooks, and most importantly our mission is to buy books for incarcerated youth in the state of Alabama.
If readers want to support, they can donate via
Cash App: $ReadingWhileBlk
People can also become a paid subscriber of the podcast with three monthly payment options of $0.99, $4.99, and $9.99. They can find the subscription link in the bio of any of our current or previous episodes of Reading While Black Book Club which streams wherever readers listen to their podcasts.
For more information: https://anchor.fm/readingwhileblk/support
The Tavares Review
The Reading While Black Book Club is a stellar club that inhabits all the things I love about club spaces on Clubhouse. It’s cool, safe, intellectually tingling and Black! Don’t get me wrong all spaces on Clubhouse are valid, but as a Black man, I love spaces that center Blackness and upholds the beauty and excellence that I know, live and adore about being Black. This space is welcoming for all cultures to come and experience Black literature, but it is purposeful in centering the specificities of the Black experience. I ABSOLUTELY suggest that you go and check out this club and that you also follow J. on Clubhouse because he goes into some dope spaces on the app. He also curates another Clubhouse club called Thank God I’m Fresh (TGIF) and you should check that out, too!