Aliu lands book deal on how he confronted racism in hockey

Glancing at the illustration of the distant-looking boy standing next to a bus on the cover of the graphic novel that will tell his story, Akim Aliu immediately recalls the pain of growing up poor and black in Toronto.

Hours spent alone using public transportation to and from city arenas to strips of duct tape holding together the bag of hockey equipment bought at a yard sale slung across the body, the depiction of a teenage Aliu knock on the house. Aliu was born in Nigeria to mixed-race parents, then lived in Ukraine before the family moved to Canada.

“It’s a simple cover, but tells a long, deep story of a lot of heartbreak, a lot of sad days, a lot of tears, a lot of uncertainty and feeling different and, to be honest, feeling left out, feeling like “I’m not part of society as it is,” said Aliu, now 32. “It’s powerful and it really touches me. And I hope people will take the time digest it and learn a bit more about my story.

Titled “Akim Aliu Dreamer: Growing Up Black in the World of Hockey,” the graphic novel is due out in February and is co-published by Scholastic and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s publishing company. The release, announced Thursday, follows Kaepernick’s best-selling picture book, “I Color Myself Different,” which details a similar story of an athlete transcending his sport by speaking out about inequality.

Intended for an audience of 8 to 12 years old, Aliu shares his journey through the difficulties of assimilation in Ukraine and Canada. It details the hazing and systemic racism he suffered while pursuing his dream of playing professional hockey before finally finding his voice by forcing the sport of hockey to confront its bias against people of color.

Aliu was a minor league journeyman who played seven career NHL games with the Calgary Flames over two seasons before scoring two life-changing games. social media posts in November 2019.

In allegations that have been proven to be true, Aliu has revealed that then-Flames coach Bill Peters bullied and hurled racial slurs at him when the two were underage a decade earlier. Peters resigned a few days later, and Aliu’s revelations led to the NHL introduces personal conduct policy in an effort to eradicate racism in what has traditionally been a white-dominated sport.

Aliu has since co-founded a player-backed company Hockey Diversity Alliance raise awareness and make hockey more accessible to minorities and disadvantaged youth.

Aliu said he never considered being the subject of a graphic novel, and he doesn’t see himself as some sort of superhero. He hopes sharing his past will help ease any feelings of despair others may be experiencing.

“For a very long time, I think hockey took so much from me because I was trying to fit into that mould,” said Aliu, who last played professional hockey in the Czech Republic in recent years. weeks of the 2019-20 season. “I kind of came to peace where I was just happy in my own skin.”

The book is co-written by Haitian-American writer and filmmaker Greg Anderson Elysee, and illustrated by Karen De la Vega, who is making her publishing debut.

Aliu’s message of speaking out against injustice is also now tied to his roots, given the war in Ukraine, and watching horror footage of his former neighborhood devastated by bombing. With a Nigerian father and Ukrainian mother, Aliu spent much of his first nine years living in Kyiv before the family moved to Canada.

He is now working to bring the rest of his mother’s family and others to Canada in a process that began with his grandfather’s move from Kyiv a month before the Russian invasion. He said he had been in touch with Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Bob Rae, to expedite the refugee visa process, and was also donating $50,000 to charitable foundations based in Ukraine.

Just as he was bullied during a hazing incident during his rookie season in the Ontario Hockey League, Aliu sees Russian President Vladimir Putin doing the same in Ukraine: “You can’t do everything just don’t understand how a human being can’t care so much about humans based on power, greed and ego.

Long gone are the days when Aliu was so ashamed of taking public transport that he hid it from his teammates or the person who was too afraid to speak out against racism for fear of putting his career at risk. He believes he is stronger for the adversity he has faced.

Aliu’s nickname, “Dreamer”, took on a deeper meaning over time. People first started calling him that because Aliu was Nigerian, just like former NBA star Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon.

Today, the nickname better describes the person he has become.

“I feel like it’s a conversation, especially in the game of hockey, that never really happened at this level,” Aliu said. “And I would like to say that I played a part in this coming out with my story and I didn’t really back down from the establishment in wanting to make changes. And I will continue to dream.


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