Damini Awoyiga, a Digitally Lit youth ambassador, plans for club members to read books from local Black and Indigenous authors
Inspiring peers about other experiences and cultures makes 13-year-old Damini Awoyiga enthusiastic.
She found a love for reading when she was four, started writing poetry and short stories at 10 and on her 13th birthday became a youth ambassador at Digitally Lit: Atlantic Canadian Youth Read.
Now, she’s blended her passion for stories and culture by starting the Afro-Indigenous Youth Book Club — the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada.
“I first got my idea when I thought that I should try and raise awareness for books written by Black and Indigenous authors,” she says, “and [to] try to talk to youth about Black and Indigenous experiences.”
— AfroIndigenousbookclub (@AfroIndigenous1) September 27, 2020
While the book club will focus on local Black and Indigenous authors, it’s open to all youth between the ages of 13 and 18.
“I think it’s important for youth to read about Black and Indigenous stories because they can learn about other people’s cultures and what they go through on a daily basis,” she says.
The first book Awoyiga plans to start with is Mayann Francis: An Honourable Life, a memoir by the 31st Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia.
“I wanted to learn more about who she was because I’ve heard her name before,” she says. “It was also really interesting to me that she was the first female and Black Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia.”
In the future, Awoyiga says she’s considering upcoming books by Dartmouth-born writer Lindsay Ruck and Mi’kmaw poet Rebecca Thomas.
But unlike her peers, Awoyiga says she’s noticed a lot of kids aren’t too interested in reading.
According to a survey conducted by Scholastic Canada in 2017, 50 per cent of children ages six to 17 read books for fun at least one to four times per week; 34 per cent of children in that age range read books for fun at least five to seven days per week. Only 16 per cent of children within those ages read books for fun less than one day per week.
In another survey looking at activities among children and teenagers, reading started becoming less popular after age nine; in particular, reading was the least popular activity for teenagers between 12 and 17. Instead, activities such as watching videos on YouTube, using social media and playing mobile games were more favourable.
Still, Awoyiga is doing her best to promote the book club through social media and talking to her classmates. She says she hopes to figure out new ways to get her peers interested and hopes to see the book club succeed.
She’s also not alone on her journey. Helping her with the book club are the mentors at Digitally Lit.
“We encourage our youth to come up with ideas,” says strategy coordinator Robin Grant. “We encourage them to run it with the resources and any extra skills or resources they might need.”
Founded in April 2019, Digitally Lit is a youth-led strategy that aims to empower young Atlantic Canadians by making connections with locally published works and online spaces.
Grant says the goal of Digitally Lit is to engage youth through critical pedagogy — a teaching theory that helps students achieve critical consciousness by questioning beliefs and practices that dominate society and culture.
“It’s very much about having a very inclusive and respectful environment,” she says, “that clearly represents what the generation of youth are today.
“We also want to reflect what they’re interested in. Generation Z is very interested now in social activism and the environment, much more than any other generation. And they’re digital natives.”
While Awoyiga has her own project, other youth ambassadors are working on others. One ambassador has created a lending library in Newfoundland for Atlantic Canadian books while another is using sign language to tell stories to youth who are deaf.
“It’s very much about engaging the public and getting other young people interested in what they’re doing,” Grant says, “engaging them to be excited about learning and social justice.”
Grant says the mentors at Digitally Lit recognize schoolwork and family chores come first in their lives. Still, its mentors usually stay in the background of the youth ambassadors’ projects. She says the book club was entirely Awoyiga’s own initiative.
And Awoyiga is no stranger to creating projects that benefit her community.
After reading The Sewing Basket, a young adult fiction novel by Prince Edward Island-based writer and filmmaker Susan White, Awoyiga created an awareness campaign called Rosemary’s Ramps. It encourages people to upload a photo to social media of local businesses and organizations that prioritize accessibility.
Back when the COVID-19 pandemic started in Nova Scotia, Awoyiga started a small business because she wanted to keep her parents safe from the virus. Called Damini Creatives, Awoyiga got a sewing machine and started making masks with fabric that came from Nigeria and Ghana. For each mask, she used colourful patterns such as the kente cloth from Ghana.
With the Afro-Indigenous Youth Book Club, she has everything planned to get started.
The first introductory meeting, which people can sign up for by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, is planned for Oct. 17 at 3 p.m. on Zoom.
Over the course of three months, she plans for the book club to have two meetings: the first will have participants generally discuss the book whereas the second will be a more in-depth discussion. The second meeting will also be a time where participants can bring questions they have for the author who they’ll interview after finishing the book.
“I hope that kids can learn about other realities, other things that people have to go through and other people’s experiences,” she says,” and then take that knowledge and use it to understand people’s lives and their daily lives.”