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Black womxn making the world a better place


  • Meghan Wills

  • Maya McDonald

  • Deborah Owusu-Akyeeah


Event Summary

Black History Month became stratospheric in 2020 with Ask Womxn Anything: Black womxn making the world a better place! Pressed Café, the new venue hosting February’s AWA panel was crowded with people who came to participate in this month’s discussion around the activist work, community-building efforts, and the Black feminist role-models who inspired our panel of incredible Black womxn: activist and community builder Maya McDonald, Meghan Wills, President and Chair of Parents for Diversity, and Deborah Owasu-Akeeyah, Campaigns and Outreach Officer at Oxfam Canada.


McDonald introduced herself by reminiscing about what it was like to move to Ottawa nine years ago, and to begin building a community of friends and supporters for herself in the city. Even though she found it difficult to build community at first, throughout the years, her experience has taught her that community was possible anywhere in Ottawa. She shared her ever-present intention to “aggressively create positive spaces”, implying that that desire for community and unrelenting willingness to find and make it for herself has always propelled her forward throughout her time living in Ottawa. While chatting, McDonald had to remind herself that she intended to continue saying yes to different opportunities. She also noted that she, as a Black woman, has had to stop telling herself she was not enough when she faced challenges, and to remind herself that her life consisted of everything outside of her work. Asked about her personal Black feminist role models, she cited the important inspirational work that Cornerstone Housing For Women’s Chaplain, Rev. Canon Hilary Murray was doing, emphasizing how important and empowering it was for Black women using Cornerstone Housing for Women’s shelter and resources, to be seeing a woman who looks like them in that role. It is especially important for her to see representation in a variety of spaces, which makes it more impactful to see women like Dr. Jill Andrew, MPP for Toronto-St. Paul’s community, where her extended family still lives, advocating for body positivity, anti-racism, and supporting women and marginalized genders at the provincial level.


Wills introduced herself by commenting on how she considers herself a creative which requires vulnerability and this can mean a sensitivity to criticism about what she’s creating. She states the importance of understanding the existence of race based on skin color as a construct, which affects people’s lives and our overall society, daily. She relayed the details of a traumatic experience from her childhood during which she and a school mate were attacked while they were grade 6 students at the now-closed Merivale Public School in Ottawa. It was not until that incident occurred that she understood being a Black person in the world mattered in a way that was going to impact her negatively moving forward. Being a multi-racial Canadian, with a Nova-Scotian White mother and a Father of Jamaican descent, Wills struggled to see her mother’s household a safe space, and, during the discussion, she affirmed her intention to provide that sense of domestic safety and stability for her daughter. She constantly takes her daughter to places and events whenever she sees an opportunity for her daughter to witness Black women living and being themselves; Meghan understands her daughter will likely face injustice and discrimination because she can’t control that but she hopes tools like mindfulness practices, therapy and overall her sense of belonging within the Black communities will ground her enough to heal from it. Her role models include Soraya Lemur, the Director of Communication for the Michaelle Jean Foundation, Paula Whitemore from Curly Hair Designs, her daughter’s hairdresser who ensures that her daughter’s hair experience is positive, and her colleague at Parents for Diversity Mante Molepo. She also emphasized the importance of allyship with her White mentors and close friends including her bestfriend, Raven Ouellette.


Debbie Owasu-Akeeyah introduced herself by noting, as McDonald had done, the fact that Ottawa is the kind of city that gives you the opportunity to create community, and that that isn’t necessarily available in bigger places like Toronto. She highlighted her love of Non-governmental organizations and all the work they do. She also spoke about her long-time involvement with rugby in the city, as well as the profound respect for, and the ever-present complicated relationship she has with her mother, as a Black queer woman. Owasu-Akeeyah spoke about how her mother was her role model, as a hair-dresser (always surrounded by Ghanaian auntees), a feminist, a full-time single mom to three children, as well as a formidable community organizer and leader.


All three women wrapped up the discussion by reflecting on possibilities of being Black in the world that we are in now, compared to the past. They were honest, they were witty and they absolutely inspired Ottawa! Thanks so much to each of these incredible women, to Pressed Café and to our dedicated volunteers at Ask Womxn Anything!

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