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Rebel Readers was founded by a Black Muslim woman and a white Jewish woman who met by chance and became friends.

by Stephanie Casanova ; February 16, 2024 ; Signal Cleveland

Felicia Haney and Dahlia Fisher met by chance two years ago. Haney called the Maltz Museum, where Fisher worked at the time, to ask the museum to host a film screening.

Fisher invited Haney to visit the museum, then invited her to coffee. The two women became fast friends, finding a lot of shared viewpoints but also finding interest in their differences. Haney is an African American Muslim woman, and Fisher is a white Jewish woman. The two would often ask each other about their religious practices.

They also had difficult conversations about what anti-semitism means, about race and how to better understand different viewpoints.

“We found ourselves having really open, sort of innocently curious conversations about each others’ lives,” Fisher said. “And also sometimes more in-depth conversations about what interests us about each other that’s different, because there was already so much the same about us that brought us together.”

They wondered if others would be interested in having similar conversations.

Fisher and her co-workers at the museum told Haney they’d been thinking about starting a book club. Haney and Fisher continued to brainstorm this idea, and Rebel Readers was born.

“The idea of being a rebel reader is that in today’s culture, it feels rebellious to say that we’re not being pigeon-holed by the silos of polarized thinking,” Fisher said. “That we are breaking boundaries of other people’s ideas of what we should be, and we’re saying we want to sit together and have conversations that are civil.”

Using stories to prompt discussion in the book club

She and Haney are proud to be able to read books and host discussions that give people insight into different cultures and communities, Fisher said.

“Sometimes we … think we know things about people and about their cultures, and sometimes we’re right, and sometimes we’re not,” Haney said. “So [we’re] just giving those platforms to be able to have those kinds of discussions.”

The books are tools to prompt important and difficult conversations without overwhelming anyone, Fisher said.

Rebel Readers book club held its first discussion at the Maltz Museum in September, when it hosted local author Joey Pompignano’s launch for his book Labor Days.

This Sunday, the book group will kick off its Spring season with another local author, Quartez Harris, who will read poems from a collection titled We Made It to School Alive. The author is re-releasing the book with new poems. Loganberry Books, where the book discussion will take place, will have a limited number of copies for sale.

Harris was a Cleveland school teacher and the poetry collection gives voice to students, parents, teachers and administrators who work in Cleveland’s public schools.

Haney, who hasn’t read the book yet, said everyone is welcome to join February’s event in honor of Black History Month. Harris will read some poems and discuss his work with Debbie Allen, cofounder of Poets Against Racism & Hate USA.

Upcoming Rebel Readers events

All at Loganberry Books, 13015 Larchmere Blvd. in Shaker Heights.

· Black History Month author event: Sunday, Feb 18, 3-5 p.m. We Made It to School Alive poetry by Quartez Harris

· Women’s History Month book talk: Sunday, March 17, 3-5 p.m. The Queen of Sugar Hill by Reshonda Tate Billingsley

· Arab Heritage Month book talk: Sunday, April 21, 3-5 p.m. You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat

· Jewish Heritage Month book talk: Sunday, May 19, 3-5 p.m. Betty Freidan: Magnificant Disrupter by Rachel Shteir

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