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Otters team up with Black Girl Hockey Club for discussion on diversity and inclusion in youth hockey

Ontario Hockey League

On Monday, Dec. 7, the Erie Otters are teaming up with the Black Girl Hockey Club (BGHC) for Authentic Engagement with the BIPOC Community at the Youth Hockey Level, a discussion around diversity, inclusion, racism and equity in youth hockey.

The free virtual event is open to the public and will be attended by members of the Otters organization; one of the ways in which the organization has been working to address systemic issues that exist in society and in hockey culture.

“Our goal is to be transformation leaders in the industry, and we want to foster an environment that embraces and celebrates difference,” said Otters assistant coach Wes Wolfe, who helped spearhead the event.

“Our hope was that in order to be an active part of the solution, we take time first to recognize any conscious or unconscious biases that exist within hockey but also within ourselves. Then, we can start to unlearn some of the things that exist within the hockey culture, break down some of the walls that exist and embrace reform and engage in change.”

The Black Girl Hockey Club has done impressive work within the hockey community around preventing exclusion based on race, gender, sexuality or ability. They’ve provided education, scholarships and spaces that will help make the sport accessible to BIPOC and, in doing so, continue growing the sport across North America.

“For so many years, it’s felt like Black folks and BIPOC folks were not involved in hockey and that’s just not the case. Sometimes there are barriers that make it so we’re less visible but they exist; the people, the members, the community, they exist,” said Renee Hess, founder of the BGHC.

“It’s just a matter of unifying folks and putting the word out there that this is a welcoming space and I think that’s probably the main goal of Monday event: how to make the space welcoming, how to engage and continue that engagement so it’s consistent over the years to BIPOC youth in hockey.”

The club’s work includes the launch of the Get Uncomfortable Campaign Pledge: a petition that encourages the public to disrupt racism both on and off the ice and to commit to doing their part in making hockey a welcoming space for all.

“The Black Girl Hockey club was an organization that all of us had been following closely. Our entire team signed the Get Uncomfortable pledge to combat and fight racism in hockey,” said Wolfe. “From players to staff, everyone signed that pledge and it just seemed like a good fit.”

With a desire to get further involved with the club’s valuable work, Wolfe reached out to Hess and the two of them came up with the idea for Monday’s free event.

“We know the Otters aren’t the most diverse team, but that’s not indicative of what they’re trying to do in the community; they’re trying to branch out, they’re trying to be as inclusive as possible and I think the diversity comes after the warm welcome that they give to the community,” Hess continued.

“My hope for this event is that we can just talk to the allies who are present and talk about the best way to engage with the BIPOC community and about how to be the best allies in hockey that we can be for our Black and Indigenous people of colour who are looking to engage in the sport, especially at a young age.”

Hess said the Get Uncomfortable Pledge has been signed by nearly 4000 people to date and described the hockey world’s response so far as “amazing.”

“We have support from all across North America, all across the world, but it’s been really amazing that small teams, large teams, OHL, AHL, beer leagues…they are taking this to heart,” explained Hess.

“I know that we have had so much support in the OHL, I had a conversation with Rico Phillips not too long ago about the Get Uncomfortable Campaign and how the OHL could be involved. I’m really encouraged to see the moves the OHL is making to be inclusive and to think about equality, to contemplate equity and how that affects people not only racially, but ensuring gender, sexuality, all of those things are taken into consideration as we move forward.”

Speaking at Monday’s event will be Mike Watson, president of the Columbus Ice Hockey Club; Saroya Tinker, defenceman for the National Women’s Hockey League’s Metropolitan Riveters, and Dr. Tunisha Singleton; member of the BGHC Board of Directors Programming Committee. The discussion, which takes place between 7-9 pm, will be moderated by sportswriter Erica Ayala.

“I think it’s going to be a really interesting conversation and hopefully it will lead to more conversations because the Get Uncomfortable Campaign is kind of all about getting uncomfortable, talking about things maybe we don’t always talk about,” said Hess.

Registration for Monday’s virtual event is open to everyone for free through Eventbrite, though donations are encouraged. For more information on the Black Girl Hockey Club or to sign the Get Uncomfortable Pledge, visit blackgirlhockeyclub.org.

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