uOttawa alumni Tiyahna Ridley-Padmore (BScSoc) and Merryl-Royce Ndema-Moussa (BSc) published their children’s book, Trailblazers: The Black Pioneers Who Have Shaped Canada, to bring to light 40 stories of Canada’s Black history that have for too long remained under told.
This February, they’re adding a few more stories to the collection. To celebrate Black History Month, we’ve teamed up with Ridley-Padmore and Ndema-Moussa to create new portraits and poems in honour of four Black uOttawa alumni who have left a significant mark on the University.
Trailblazers x uOttawa
Ridley-Padmore started writing Trailblazers in 2017 as a personal project. Frustrated by learning only about civil rights leaders from the United States and remembering the absence of Black characters from her childhood books, she set out to highlight the richness of Black history in Canada in the hope that young people today can grow up seeing and celebrating these stories.
Like the stories featured in Trailblazers, the four uOttawa profiles will be written in verse and illustrated by Ndema-Moussa, a self-taught artist. His digital illustrations are colourful and bold, sketched primarily on his iPad.
When it comes to the uOttawa collaboration, both Ridley-Padmore and Ndema-Moussa say it’s important to go beyond recognizing only the past accomplishments of Black leaders in Canada. “This collaboration is a reminder that there are countless people who are alive today and who are doing the work right now to blaze trails and make a difference for years to come,” says Ridley-Padmore. “We don’t have to wait to give them flowers.”
The uOttawa alumni poems and illustrations will be released throughout February. Although the stories, experiences, and interests of the four featured alumni are very different, Ridley-Padmore says they all connected back to the idea of belonging. “In their own way and across their own disciplines, each of the featured alumni is leading important work to co-create belonging, increase representation, and enable Black people to safely take up more space,” she explains. “The issues they highlighted profoundly resonated with me and my team.” Ndema-Moussa adds that each alumni’s story can be connected to at least one of the 40 trailblazers featured in the book — Black Canadians who championed or opened the door for the same causes that the four uOttawa changemakers defend today. “It is a chance to highlight the accomplishments of these alumni who did great things with their education.”
Sharing the stories not often told
Building on the interest and need for greater representation in literature, Ridley-Padmore and Ndema-Moussa founded Counterstory Press in 2021. This non-profit publishing organization works with artists, schools, and organizations to support Queer, Trans, Indigenous, Black, and people of colour in sharing their stories and experiences.
Outside of Counterstory, Ridley-Padmore is working on another book. Ndema-Moussa is interested in doing the same, as well as getting more involved in the Ottawa art community and finding a way to mentor or give back to young artists and illustrators.
The desire to ensure that the next generation can see themselves pursuing a world of possibility, following in the footsteps of those who led before is a common thread in the work of both creators. “The stories and images [in Trailblazers] inspire young generations. If they see themselves represented in books at an early age, they are more likely to pursue similar avenues when they grow up,” says Ndema-Mousa. “Institutions like uOttawa continue to offer education that can lead these future trailblazers toward the careers and life paths they choose to follow.”