The first time Maya Basudde got on stage to read one of her poems — called Pretty For a Black Girl, a comment she actually received — she didn't think she could make it through.
Legs shaking, staring out at her fellow high school students, her voice broke. But it didn't take long to catch her stride.
By the next round of the 2015 competition she got her strength back, and she ended up placing first.
"I'm a lot stronger than I thought I was. Things that I wasn't able to share with people for my whole life I was suddenly able to share in front of a whole crowd, so that really motivated me to keep going," Basudde says.
"I was able to share a lot of experiences that I had growing up — facing abuse in school and bullying and whatnot — a lot of tough subjects that I honestly couldn't talk about without completely crying."
Two years later, in 2017, Basudde started Tell 'Em Girl, a poetry showcase "for every girl feeling alone out there."
"When you're sitting there there's a lot of moments where you might laugh, you might cry, but you really feel like you're part of a community and part of a sisterhood, which is what it's all about," she says.
'I want Tell 'Em Girl to be much more than a poetry showcase; I want it to be a place where people can come and feel safe and I want to see it grow and I want to see other girls grow, too.' -Maya Basudde
Basudde says she can't help but get emotional at every showcase, watching other people share their stories.
"Seeing all of these girls share their hearts with other people so confidently is so inspiring to me as a person and as an artist.... I'm just amazed, at a loss for words, at how things can really change for the better when you speak out," she says.
But she's not finished yet.
"What motivates me to get out of bed in the morning is all of the people I haven't yet reached. There's a lot more work that I want to do and a lot more people that I want to touch. And I want Tell 'Em Girl to be much more than a poetry showcase; I want it to be a place where people can come and feel safe and I want to see it grow and I want to see other girls grow, too."
Trailblazers is a community connection project that tells stories about people making an impact in the Ottawa area. We received hundreds of submissions and a panel of judges helped select our top 10.