HOPKINTON, MA – In an effort to create greater cultural understanding and to spark conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion, the MetroWest Commission on the Status of Women is launching a free virtual book club for the region’s community leaders and legislators.
Titled “MetroWest READ: Reading for Equity, Accountability and Diversity,” the book club hopes to turn the page on the past and move toward greater inclusivity and understanding of the cultures that make up the fabric of MetroWest. The first session will be on Sunday, June 19.
“I think like many organizations in Massachusetts, but really throughout the country right now and over the last couple of years, we’ve really been looking at areas of diversity, inclusion and equity in our region,” explained Heather Panahi, co-chair of the commission in an interview with Patch on Friday. “We were thinking, are we really doing all that we can do to amplify the voices of those who might be marginalized in our communities or who may feel underrepresented?”
The group previously hosted a panel discussion focusing on women of color and immigrants. Conversations with members, particularly Vice Chair and Framingham resident Leslie Smart, sparked the idea for a book club that would include women from all parts of MetroWest and different cultural backgrounds to exchange ideas.
“We decided that one of the best things we could do is just invite community members to join us in an exploration of some of the beautiful, diverse backgrounds of the peoples who live in our communities,” Panahi, a teacher, continued. “The book club is a place for us to come together and share what we’re learning in the hopes of deepening our understanding and respect for one another.”
She noted that, in order to create more equitable situations for all, people need to be able to understand one another’s points of view and lived experiences. The book club, scheduled to meet every two or three months, can be the opening of a chapter for these conversations.
She called MetroWest “a beautiful mosaic of cultures and experiences.”
Books were chosen to represent cultures recognized during a particular time of the year. The club will begin with discussions on two books on Juneteenth because this is the first time the country will celebrate it as a federal holiday honoring the end of the enslavement of Black people announced in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865.
One book that will be examined is “Juneteenth” By Ralph Ellison. The author died before it was completed, she explained. But his notes were used to finish the book.
“I think he worked on it for over 25 or 30 years,” she said, adding that she believed the original manuscript had been lost in a house fire.
In September, the group plans to focus on Latinx culture in honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month as another example. October is LGBTQ History Month, where books representing that culture’s history will be discussed.
“This is sort of our starting point,” Panahi explained, noting that future discussions will include other cultures and experiences. “Book clubs can be seen as a really simplistic way to address issues. But, to me, you can’t solve problems of injustice if you first don’t understand and respect the experiences of the people who live in your community. To me, this is an opportunity for us to learn and grow together.”
The books are meant to be a variety of historical and nonfiction works, some highlighting area authors.
She added that local legislators and leaders have been invited to join as well.
Another initiative Panahi discussed is tentatively beig called “Communiteas.” These would be gatherings where people from various groups can talk over tea or coffee and share their stories, their challenges and what they feel can be changed. Hopkinton resident Nasiba Mannan will be spearheading the effort.
“Nasiba has some wonderful connections with regard to DEI work,” she noted. “I think she’ll be a wonderful representative for us as we do that work.”