By Mira Williamson

On May 31, several hundred people showed up to a vigil in Ottawa’s Dundonald Park organized by Justice4Regis. On June 5, approximately 7,000 people attended the No Peace Until Justice march that started at Parliament Hill. On June 20, about 1,000 people gathered outside of the Ottawa Police Service’s Elgin Street Station for a march organized by the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition.

Maya Basudde: ‘We are all warriors’ 

Maya Basudde is an author, a spoken word poet, a singer, a student, a motivational speaker, a workshop facilitator, the founder of Tell ‘Em Girl and Loud Black Girls, and an activist. Also known as MayaSpoken, she is a warrior.

“We have city councillors and politicians making a lot of statements about how they support Black Lives Matter, but they aren’t really implementing any of the demands or requests that Black folks are asking for.”

Maya Basudde
Headshot of Maya Basudde
Photo from Maya Basudde.

Maya Basudde started Tell ‘Em Girl to empower women by sharing their stories through poetry.

Her first event sold out in five minutes. 

“It was just a beautiful moment,” she said. “One hundred and fifty people or so gathered together realizing that we know we all have so many differences, but we’re all kind of the same in one way.”

Basudde was named after Maya Angelou. She fell in love with poetry after reading an Angelou poem in elementary school.

At 17, she performed two poems about her experiences at a poetry slam and won first place. 

“Nobody knew it, but no one had ever heard my poetry before,” she said. 

Basudde, now 22,  said it started her journey of healing and empowerment through spoken word—an outlet to express her frustrations and traumas.

There were many times when she wanted to give up, but she kept pushing.

“Warriors get wounded too. Warriors have to take time to rest. Warriors have to take time to feel,” she said. “We all keep pushing, and we all keep going, and I strongly believe that’s because we are all warriors.”

Basudde said her life has been impacted by the effects of systemic racism. She has faced many obstacles, including abuse from a family member and a high school ex. She said an act of self-defence placed her in youth detention when she was 14, and she was paralyzed from the waist down after being hit by a car. She learned to walk again, but she said she developed PTSD that could trigger seizures.

Growing up in Ottawa South, she said she has lost friends to street violence and has others who are in prison. Her community lacked funding, and she said this has been a barrier to success for many talented youth she knows. It’s the cycle of systemic racism.

“I can look at my life and say there was a point where things were very dark,” she said. “But I’ve stepped into a part of my life where I can really help people, and I can really make that difference to someone else.”

Basudde is petitioning the Ontario Ombudsman to open an investigation into racism in Ottawa schools. She has over 100,000 signatures.

She is working with Student Equity Strategy Canada to collect testimonies and data to provide to the Ombudsman and hopefully create change within schools.

Her anti-racism work in education is in addition to her empowerment initiatives, disability and mental health advocacy and women support programs.

She said she was encouraged that Ottawa was able to have a march earlier this summer, but that she wants to see more than just “performative” support.

“We have city councillors and politicians making a lot of statements about how they support Black Lives Matter, but they aren’t really implementing any of the demands or requests that Black folks are asking for,” she said.

Basudde is transferring to Carleton University for psychology and Human Rights and Social Justice. She wants to be a therapist and help people and communities overcome trauma, and build policies to better support communities.

“The past few years I’ve really found my calling,” she said. “I just strongly feel like if I can make it a bit easier for someone else with the knowledge that I have, then why not?” 

Top calls to action

Join the call for police union head Matt Skof’s resignation, after a 2016 voice recording of him calling a Black activist a vulgar name resurfaced.
– Prioritize community well-being services in municipal budgets, focus on mental health supports.
– Defund the police and reallocate the funds towards holistic community safety and well-being.

City’s response:
– The city hired Coun. Rawlson King as anti-racism and ethnocultural liaison.
– King, Mayor Jim Watson and City Manager Steve Kanellakos identified key anti-racism initiatives.
– Coun. Shawn Menard called for a partial defunding of the police. Watson is against it, and King said it isn’t feasible in Ontario, but we should invest more in communities.

– Join the call for Skof’s resignation.
– Address racism in Ottawa bylaw and review case of a bylaw officer assaulting Ottawa man Obi Ifedi and not being charged.
End the weaponization of 911 against BIPOC: fine the woman who called to report Black man Ntwali Bashizi for standing on a bridge and mandate anti-bias training for emergency workers.

Police’s response:
– Chief Peter Sloly said there is no tolerance for workplace harassment and sexual violence.
– Ottawa police charged an officer for creating and distributing a racist meme.
– Every Ottawa Police member will be required to participate in training and awareness for intersectionality issues.

I am personally and professionally committed to fixing this issue. Thankfully, I am not alone in this work…this is not the time for incremental change: this is the time to make real change. 

OPS Chief Peter Sloly to the Standing Committee on Public Safety & National Security (July 24)

School boards:
Remove trustee Donna Blackburn for allegedly harassing a Black teenager playing basketball in a closed park.
Have the Ontario Ombudsman open a public investigation into racism in Ottawa school boards.

School boards’ response:
– The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board committed to examining privilege, questioning how to eliminate systemic racism and creating a safe space to learn and work.
– The Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCDSB) said systemic racism must be addressed and pledged to be part of the solution.
– OCDSB censured trustee Blackburn and asked her to resign (she said no).