The path to good: a chat with Bel Santos

Bel Santos Mayer is a tireless activist in the anti-racist fight, for the right to education and reading. At the age of 14, he became involved with social movements in Parque Santa Madalena, the peripheral neighborhood of São Paulo where he spent his childhood. There, like many places today, there was no public cultural policy, schools were becoming increasingly scrapped, teenagers were co-opted into drug trafficking and conflicts between armed groups were constant. In this context, she joined colleagues to teach literacy to adults and young people who were not studying. Bel became one of the neighborhood's teachers.

For 26 years, she has coordinated the Brazilian Institute of Studies and Community Support (IBEAC), a non-profit organization founded in 1981. In 2008, after projects in the area of ​​Human Rights, the educator decided to focus on Parelheiros, a rural peripheral region of São Paulo - at the time, with the lowest human development index in the city. “ I went to graduate in Tourism in 2011, because of Parelheiros. The region with two APAs (Environmental Protection Areas) was on the verge of becoming an Ecotourism Hub, which happened in 2013. I wanted to contribute to Community-Based Tourism, bringing together people who were researching and carrying out research on the topic”, he says. . Together with young people from the community, they created the Caminhos da Leitura community library. His master's work gave rise to the book ' Parelheiros idas e vi(n)das: ler, voyage e movem-se com um libria' , published by Solisluna and Selo Emília.

“Literature is a way to protect ourselves and continue recording our existence and its complexities.”

 

 

- The Caminhos da Leitura Library, created in a cemetery in Parelheiros, on the outskirts of São Paulo, brought to life a space that is exactly the opposite. How did this idea come about and what was the reaction of people in the community at first?

For 26 years, I have coordinated a social organization (IBEAC) founded in 1981. In 2008, after creating and carrying out several projects in the areas of human rights, we decided to focus on a single location: Parelheiros, at the time, the lowest human development index of the city. There, something that I had already experienced in my childhood and adolescence would be repeated: the absence of cultural facilities. With two aggravating factors: lack of spaces due to it being an Environmental Protection Area (APA) and because there are no youth groups.

The library was born from my meeting and that of Vera Lion (director of IBEAC) with young people in the community. Initially, we occupied a Basic Health Unit. While people waited for health care, young people read poetry. Complete health care. It was like that for a year or so, until a dentist arrived. He needed our little room. The community helped us find a new shelter. And the gravedigger's house was the available place. We could read this change as a worsening, but it wasn't. Although everyone was surprised and some young people thought or said that they wouldn't be “even dead”, the unusual thing began to attract the attention of many people from near and far. We stayed in the cemetery for 11 years. Until the pandemic, the company that manages it requested the return of the little house to expand the burial area. Once again it could just be a sad story: closing a library, but it isn't. We end up distributing the books in the community until the Library flourishes elsewhere. This other place already exists. We gained land and are going to plant 10,639 trees on it, before building the library.

- You are from the Tourism area. How did you develop such a rich project and reference in the area of ​​education?

I graduated in Tourism in 2011, because of Parelheiros. In academia, I found the research field Paradigm of New Mobilities (PNM), developed by John Urry and Mimi Scheler, who consider (im)mobility a key to reading all phenomena that occur in the world. I dedicated myself to looking at the mobility of a community library, Caminhos da Leitura. The entire research process was very participatory. Your writing could not be any different. I wrote a text with a lot of poetry, music, dialogue, photographs. I wrote to the academy and also to my mother and the mothers of Parelheiros. Everything is well explained in the methodology. This has made the text a reference for new researchers. The Caminhos da Leitura Community Library keeps moving.

- How can people from poorer communities engage in reading, if their needs are often urgent, such as food, security and decent housing, for example?

As Antonio Candido wrote, no one lives without fables. And Leda Maria Martins remembers that literature has always been present in the poorest families. What we lacked were books. This art object that we can carry in our purse, in our pocket and, why not, place on the ground where a community walks? The response of Parelheiros and other peripheries, as they embark on this path without setbacks (the path of reading), reveals that everyone can enjoy reading.

- After almost 15 years of implementing Caminhos da Leitura, what were the fruits harvested, for the community, in general, and for you, in particular?

There is a reading community in Parelheiros. The young people who created Caminhos da Leitura, created the first bookshelves in their homes, are the first university students in their families, and are references for their communities. And today, I dare say, they are (we are) building a literary ancestry in Parelheiros. Children and teenagers no longer need so much time to fall in love with literature. We are already starting to research the topic. The gains for me are many: contributing to the construction of a “Brazil that reads”, being able to dedicate myself to researching the topic and, collectively, seeing many eyes shining with pride that Parelheiros is on its way to becoming a reading territory.

- To write 'Um defeito de cor', which brings up the issue of ancestors and ancestry, Ana Maria Gonçalves spent time in Bahia. You have family in Recôncavo Baiano. Do you feel like you belong when you’re in Bahia? Do you think about doing a project in Bahia or inspired by it?

Ana Maria Gonçalves! We love it! The young people and I were with her on three occasions, talking about her work and literature in general. This closeness between the authors and their young readers moves me. I have maternal cousins ​​in Santo Amaro. I intend to find them. I really want to spend time in Terra Nova, the city of my grandmothers, my father and my mother. I was there twice, but I was very young. I would really like to access old photographs of the city, talk to historians, know a little more about mine, about myself. There are many holes (silences) in the story of my ancestors. Older women don't always want to share their pain. I live collecting stories with my father and mother. There are very few photos. I feel like a little piece of Bel is missing.

- How to attract children, young people and even adults, to reading, in times of social networks and, increasingly, dependence on them?

There is only one way: reading. Spending time reading. Exposing people to stories and books. Repeating the gesture. Reading, too. Talking about the books. There’s no point in just “reading”. You need to be an example.

- Has the Brazilian educational system been able to follow the evolution of the racial struggle, in order to teach anti-racist concepts and practices in the classroom?

20 years after the implementation of Law 10,639/2003, which amends the Education Guidelines and Bases Law (LDB 9394/2003) to include the history and culture of Africa and Afro-Brazilians, recent research such as that carried out by Geledés and Instituto Alana reveal the low adherence of municipalities to it. There are states, like São Paulo, in which 75% of municipalities did not adhere to the law: they did not implement training programs for educators in the public and private systems to learn more about ourselves. They choose ignorance and arrogance to be self-sufficient. Where the existences, knowledge, actions, worldview of more than half of the population are of no interest to the other part, there is an incomplete education. This with regard to the macro issue. As a child, on the classroom floor there are educators creating deep, articulated sensitive practices.

- Reading is a powerful weapon against racism. What works do you recommend to young people who want to understand more about the topic?

Racism has a gun pointed at the head and chest of every black person, whether they are distracted or armed. The State's project to eliminate us since the enslavement of our ancestors has been failing due to the incapacity of the executioners and our resistance. I want to think of literature as a shield, protecting our heads, our thoughts, the bodies of our youngest (especially something from the genocide of the black population). We cannot allow them to kill our present and our future, as they have already done by destroying documents on black slavery, rebellions, looting of the African continent, attacks on quilombos, theft of sacred objects and other atrocities. Literature is a way to protect ourselves and continue recording our existence and its complexities.

It’s difficult to recommend just a few books. On the topic of everyday racism, I propose everything by Cidinha da Silva, especially 'Stop killing us' (Jandaíra), 'Survivors' (Pallas) and the recent 'Ancestral technologies for producing infinities' (Martelo).

I suggest looking at what has been produced in literature for children. Many texts, illustrations and fascinating themes such as 'Aqui e aqui', by Caio Zero (Companhia das Letrinhas), about working mothers, or 'Fevereiro', by Carol Fernandes (Editora Caixote), which reports on a party for Gandhi's Children from the perspective of a small child. There are many new authors emerging. It's worth stopping by bookstores and libraries.


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