Balarama Holness: On football, justice, and the power of sharing his own story

Posted on Monday, February 27, 2023

Balarama Holness

Photo: Balarama Holness, (BA ’08, BEd ’14)

Balarama Holness (BA ’08, BEd ’14) can draw parallels between his uOttawa athletic career and his political activism. Whether it’s politics or football, Balarama says they’re both team sports: they involve mobilizing people from all walks of life and working together in community to achieve shared goals.

During his degrees in education and health sciences, Balarama was a Gee-Gees men’s football player (’04-’07) and was a defensive cornerback for the Montreal Alouettes when they won the Grey Cup in 2010. He was also a member of the Gee-Gees track and field team.

Recently, Balarama has focused his energy on community organizing and activism and encourages people to get involved in issues related to systemic racism, justice, equity, and inclusion. In 2021, he founded the municipal political party, Mouvement Montréal, and ran to become the city’s mayor.

Balarama was the guest on episode four of season five of uOttaKnow, a podcast that features enlightening and inspiring conversations with uOttawa alumni. It’s hosted by two-time uOttawa alumna, Gwen Madiba (MA ’12; BSocSc ’08), and the fifth season centres on the theme of curiosity.

Intimate new memoir traces a journey toward justice

In his life, Balarama says curiosity has been the ability to be vulnerable and to discover himself and the world. This openness was essential in recent years when Balarama penned his first memoir, Eyes on the Horizon: My Journey Toward Justice.

Released in March 2023, Balarama writes about his experiences growing up as the son of a Jamaican father and Quebecois mother in a Hindu ashram in West Virginia. Moving to a predominantly white suburban neighbourhood in Montreal at the age of 10, the book also reveals the racism and discrimination Balarama faced upon returning home, and how he came to fight for justice and change in Canada.

The book is as much a story of overcoming challenges and failures as it is of success—and writing it demanded courage and honesty. Ultimately, Balarama says he wrote the memoir not only for himself, but for his young daughter, Bella Angélique, and for other young people.

With a hopeful eye on the next generation, Balarama says it’s important for people today to lay a strong foundation so the leaders of tomorrow can work to address climate change, racism, and the many other challenges the world faces.

Education as an equalizer

In Eyes on the Horizon, Balarama recalls how Gee-Gees football coach, Denis Piché, always reminded him that he was a student first, athlete second. Education has been central to Balarama’s life, and he has gone on to attain five academic degrees.

More important than his academic accomplishments, however, is how Balarama sees the role of education in securing racial, economic, and political justice for marginalized and racialized communities. “Education became where I could rebel in a positive fashion against things in society that I thought were unequal or unjust,” Balarama told Gwen.

Throughout his studies and life, he has challenged why something is perceived as a “norm.” Why racialized people are underrepresented in Parliament but overrepresented in the prison system, for example, or why people who share his lived experiences and heritage are not reflected in academic curriculum.

Balarama’s journey toward equality and justice is a life-long commitment. Whether it’s through his writing, his political advocacy, or his other passions and projects, Balarama is doing what he can to lay the foundation for future generations by pushing for change today. Listen to the full conversation with him here.

Back to top