Colourful illustration of mothers and children in social justice group

Illustration By Hanna Barczyk

Meet Toronto’s social justice mommy group

Mamas Stay Woke is a meet-up where the focus is on topics like race and sexism, not diapers

Every Wednesday morning up to 10 moms with kids in tow gather in the backroom of Tokki, a shop in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood that sells gently used children’s clothing. Yes, they’re a group of moms—but they’re not your typical “mommy group.” They’ve never discussed attachment parenting, sleep deprivation or the pros and cons of cloth diapers. “We talk about social justice issues and current events,” says group organizer Eloise Tan. Issues around race, gender, class, religion and sexism are common threads running through their conversations, and talking points are often sparked by what’s happening in the news. “A few weeks ago, we spent a long time discussing the Tina Fontaine case,” Tan says.  

After the birth of her second child, Tan was looking for a space where she could connect with other mothers. “I just didn’t find the usual mom groups were right for me,” she says. “I wanted a place where I could meet other moms, bring my kid and talk about social justice issues.” Mamas Stay Woke was born.  

“Woke” is a term that originated in African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and refers to being aware of injustice, oppression and inequity both in your community and in the wider context of the world. Tan says the name of their group emphasizes the importance of staying active when it comes to issues that are important to you. “You have to go out into the world and put these ideas into action,” she says. “It’s also about figuring out how you’re going to pass these values down to your kids.” 

“We’re moms from all sorts of backgrounds, but we have one thing in common: an interest or involvement in social justice issues.”

Tan was surprised by the positive reaction from moms in the neighbourhood and on social media. Several regulars live in the area, but there’s also one who travels from the downtown core, since there’s nothing like this near where she lives. “Some are single moms, some are married, some are not married, some live in heterosexual relationships, some are in lesbian relationships, some have adopted children and they’re all different races,” says Tan. “We’re moms from all sorts of backgrounds, but we have one thing in common: an interest or involvement in social justice issues.”  

Many of the moms are former activists. “When you have young kids, that world can be hard to navigate,” Tan says. “How do you bring your baby to a march or attend a nighttime event?” When some of the women in the group had kids, they became even more passionate about their causes than they were before. That’s why Mamas Stay Woke has been such a great space for them, she adds.  

But the impact goes beyond just having a chance to talk about social justice, or making some new like-minded friends and forging community connections. “I think it’s important to have spaces like this even for women who don’t go to them,” Tan says. “The community knows we’re there and that moms care about these issues, and that’s huge.” 

New members are always welcome and, although the group is on a brief hiatus while Tan transitions back to work, check the Facebook page for updates and special events.