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Chayses boys’ book club is changing the narrative

Members of Chayses boys' book club

IN 2016, Melissa Nich launched Chayses boys' book club with the aim of inspiring young boys to read in both an educational and engaging way. As a mother to a young son, she said: “I wanted to start something for the young boys in the community because a lot of them don’t do anything outside of school apart from football.

I thought I have to do something and I specifically wanted to focus on black boys because of the negative stigmas that are often applied to them. I wanted to do something that was fun, but could also add value educationally.”

The club members, who meet up to three times a month are geared up to aim high for the future as Nich focuses on taking the boys “to different institutions of educational interest across London and further afield.”

“We’ve taken them to Oxford and Cambridge University to show them outside of London and get them thinking about higher education. Black boys are very intelligent and very creative, so we wanted to push that through the book club,” she said.

The necessity of the clubs existence hit home after the clubs first session when Nich learned that one of the children had never been to Nandos. She said: “I heard the boys all laughing and I asked what was funny, and one of the boys had never dined here before.

PICTURED: Melissa Nich

To us, Nandos is just a normal thing but it showed that these boys don’t get out. The reality of it is, some children don’t have the opportunity and that’s what really made me think.”

Addressing the wider concepts behind youth engagement and education, Nich said: “I think there is a lot of talk about black boys underachieving but there’s not a lot of action. My club is self-funded; I've not waited for the government to give me any help.

“But we need to help ourselves first and then look for additional support. There’s a lot more that can be done. For these kids, I’m trying to show that places like Cambridge should not be foreign to them, they can go to Cambridge."

Now in its second year, the club has proven that it’s more than just about picking up a book as Nich has seen a boost in the boys confidence. She explained: “I get them to present their book review in front of the rest of the group and it improves their presentation skills and their confidence to speak in a group.”

The transferable skills also help the youngsters build upon communication by meeting new people. "They can chill out with their friends, talk about the latest game out or trainer and truly be themselves. It builds those relationships and strengthens those friendships. They are becoming more like brothers, which helps form a solid foundation”.

After reading a book, the boys are asked to write a book review and “whoever does the best one gets a prize. It’s a good incentive,” Nich added.

For the future, Nich would like to see the book club expand and grow. “Even if it’s not my club growing, I want other people to be inspired to start their own clubs for black boys. They get too many negative stereotypes from the media, and a lot of crime is highlighted when they are involved,” she said.

“I would like to encourage more boys that are exposed to those things to join the book club to keep them off the streets. I always tell the boys at the club, work hard and you will get your treat.”

By popular demand, Nich plans to launch a girl’s book club in the next two months that will equally offer a safe space for reading and learning in a fun way. She said: “I'll be launching at the Institute of Civil Engineers to get them interested in STEM subjects as one of the first sessions.”

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