Creating and identifying community has long been a challenge for many Rochester transplants who arrive to the Med City for various job and educational opportunities. This challenge has proven to be especially daunting for people of color.
For longtime Rochester resident Betty Hutchins, creating community meant taking initiative and connecting with those that shared her love for reading. Fueled by her aspiration to build authentic connections, Hutchins, along with friends Delia Clark and Carla Butts, created the Sista 2 Sista Book Club as a way to fellowship over their favorite reads.
Founded in early 2000, the space has also served as a safe haven for Black women to be their authentic selves under the bond of sisterhood. Hutchins, who arrived in Rochester in the late ‘90s from her hometown of Chattanooga, Tenn., recalled her initial transition to the Med City and how early relationships helped to set the foundation for the group.
“When I first arrived to Rochester, one of the first things I wanted to do was build community," Hutchins said. “None of the people that I worked with at the time looked like me and there were few people of color in Rochester as a whole, which didn’t give me many outlets to connect. The book club itself came out of a relationship I was able to form with Delia Clark, who had just come to Rochester with her husband, Leon, and their family. Like me, she was also trying to find community, and every so often we’d get together with a small group and discuss the books we were reading. Delia was the person that came up with the name. The group eventually grew, but early on it was the thing that acclimated me to Rochester.”
With 10 to 12 members active within the group, the women convene monthly to discuss books across various genres of African-American literature. Members also connect with other book clubs every year in Atlanta during the National Book Club Conference.
While all events were regularly held in person, the 2020 pandemic forced the group to shift toward a virtual format where they now connect via Zoom. Despite the virtual format, participation remains high with members now having the opportunity to check in from various parts of the country.
“At one point all of the members of book club were living in Rochester, which helped us to stay connected," Hutchins explained. “After one of our founding members moved to California last year, she thought that she wouldn’t be able to participate since we’d always done things in person. But when the pandemic hit, we had to shift to an online platform, which allowed us to come together and maintain the connections we built over the years. Now we have members participating from all over the country.”
As the state of Minnesota has been inundated with moments of social unrest from the murders of George Floyd and Daunte Wright, strengthening bonds within the Black community proved to be more vital than ever. The Sista 2 Sista Book Club members were no exception to the times, as they recognized the importance of safe spaces during these sensitive moments.
“At the end of April, we came together and discussed Cicely Tyson’s memoir ‘Just As I Am.' It was a great conversation where everyone was able to share their thoughts, said Hutchins. "As we were ending the discussion, someone brought up the Derek Chauvin trial and what we thought of the outcome. Not only was it a safe space to share our thoughts, but it also allowed us to hear the perspectives from the other women that lived outside of Minnesota.”
In 2021 the group hopes to strengthen the bonds they’ve created over the years by simply being flexible.
“The future for Sista 2 Sista is both bright and limitless," said Hutchins. "Because we no longer have boundaries, we’re able to try new things while also keeping an intimate experience for all of our members. We have a great group of women with different ideas and viewpoints, so we’re able to learn from one another. I truly enjoy being connected to such a dynamic group of women.”
About the writer: Marquis Taylor
Marquis Taylor is an educator, content creator, writer, and podcast host. Raised in Detroit, Marquis has written for a variety of publications including the Michigan Chronicle, Michigan FrontPage, and Rolling Out Magazine. He is a contributing writer for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, which is Minnesota's first and oldest Black-owned newspaper. He is also the host and creator of the Detroit Worldwide Podcast, an interview-based platform that highlights the stories of native Detroiters from across the world. He currently resides in the Twin Cities with his wife.