'going back to fetch it'

Educator Uncovers UCM Legacy and African Roots

By Kathy Strickland

Ekuwah Name Address

A young Ekuwah Mends practices writing her name, which means "a girl born on a Wednesday."


Ekuwah. It’s a common name in Ghana, her father’s native country.

In the Akan culture of people living mainly along Ghana’s coastal regions, babies are often named for the day of the week they are born. So Ekuwah (also written as Akua) shares her name with thousands of other Ghanaian girls born on a Wednesday.

In Warrensburg, however, her name was an anomaly.

Growing up in Warrensburg R-VI public schools, Ekuwah Mends Moses, ’01, was often asked by teachers if she had a nickname.

“I told them I did not, and politely taught them how to say my name,” the now 44-year-old University of Central Missouri College of Education alumna writes in her first nonfiction picture book. “I like my name. It is me. I do not want my name changed or erased.”


Going Back

“My Name Is an Address,” published in 2021, explores the meaning of Ekuwah’s name and follows the roots of her father’s family back to Cape Coast, Ghana. Albion Mends III left Ghana in 1971 on a track scholarship to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.

After a year living in a climate he describes as unbearably cold to a native of Ghana, Albion transferred to Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU). There he met Ekuwah’s mother, Carolyn Coffield, who was a graduate student teaching the Africana Studies class he was taking as an undergraduate.

Carolyn’s roots are harder to trace, as her ancestors’ indigenous names and heritage were stripped from them when they were brought from Africa as enslaved people. Ekuwah related to her maternal ancestors’ sense of disconnection in grade school.

“I felt lonely, embarrassed and ashamed of my name,” she writes. “My parents talked to me and helped me boost my confidence. They told me to be kind and remember our family values.”

Education is one of those values. Ekuwah’s parents graduated from ENMU, married and moved to Warrensburg in 1974 so Albion could pursue his graduate degree at UCM.

Ekuwah parents International Club

Ekuwah's parents, Carolyn and Albion Mends, were active in UCM's international club.

He earned his master’s in Sociology in 1976, the year Ekuwah’s older sister, Effuah (meaning a girl born on a Friday), was born. Carolyn, who had earned a bachelor’s in Art and a master’s in Secondary Education, became an artist in residence at UCM. She painted students’ and faculty members’ portraits in the student union, designed flyers and posters for university events and created art on commission.

She was soon hired as an academic advisor and served in that position for 22 years, despite deteriorating mobility due to multiple sclerosis. Carolyn passed away on July 13, 2017, and Ekuwah published “My Name Is an Address” on that date in her honor.


Bringing It Back

The word “sankofa” can be translated from the Akan language as “to retrieve” or “to go back to fetch [something].” In Ghana it is often represented in art, decor and clothing as an Adinkra symbol of a bird turning its head backward to retrieve an egg, which symbolizes something from the past that can be helpful in the present.

Ekuwah has been doing just that — going back to discover her family’s history through the process of creating nonfiction picture books. As an elementary school engineering teacher and former literacy specialist in the nation’s fifth largest public school district in Clark County, Nevada, she recognizes the need for students to see themselves in the literature they are asked to read.

“I notice a girl who is Black like me,” she writes in her second book, “Mama’s Portraits and Me,” released on Mother’s Day 2022. “What inspired Mama to paint her portrait? Was it her unique green eyes? … Is she quiet and shy like me? So many questions flood my mind. I want to go back in time and ask Mama about this portrait and other pieces of her work.”

Green Eyes Ekuwah

A painting by Ekuwah's mother, Carolyn Mends, titled "Green Eyes."

A key resource in Ekuwah’s research was her father, the third of his name, who retired in 2021 after teaching Africana Studies, Religious Studies and Modern Languages at UCM for 14 years.

“It’s her contribution to education,” Albion says of his daughter’s books, which include pictures of cultural artifacts he used to bring to the schools Ekuwah attended in Warrensburg to educate her classmates about Ghana. “If you have history, geography and culture, then you are full. You can appreciate who you are. A lack of knowledge of your history makes you question your contribution to the world. … He who tells your story defines you. So we’ve got to tell our own story.”

Ekuwah was glad her grandfather, Albion Mends II, got to see his family’s story published in “My Name Is an Address.” He moved from Ghana after the death of his wife, Georgina Isabella Sagoe, in 1981 and lived in Warrensburg until passing away at the age of 103 in January 2022.


Going Home

After both of her books were published, Ekuwah took a trip to Ghana with her two teenage children in the summer of 2022.

It was their second time visiting and Ekuwah’s fifth. The first trip Ekuwah remembers was in 1993, when she was around the same age her own children are now. Effuah, ’99, ’02, had to pack her little sister’s bags for her because Ekuwah did not want to go.

“There’s that whole miseducation that we went through and a very narrow view of what Africa is and what it has to offer,” Ekuwah says of her mindset then, despite her parents’ influence. “Yes, there is poverty, but there’s so much more than that. We just were never shown.”

Ekuwah Ghana Home

Ekuwah at the house in Cape Coast, Ghana, where her father grew up.

Ekuwah donated copies of her books to a school library in Ghana during her latest trip. She has created learning guides and activities aligned with Common Core State Standards and National Core Arts Standards for other educators to use.

Above all, she hopes her stories will serve as an example of Black excellence and inspire children and adults alike to research and share their own family legacies — the stories of their own names.

Did you like this article? We'd love to hear your feedback at ucmmagazine@ucmo.edu.



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