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Willie O’Ree, 1st Black Player in NHL, is a Real Ice Man

In 2022, U.S. President Joe Biden signed the Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act. The bill awarded O’Ree a Congressional Gold Medal, the U.S. Congress’ highest honor, for his contributions to “hockey, inclusion and recreational opportunity.”

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Willie O’Ree on the ice in mid-career.
Willie O’Ree on the ice in mid-career.

By Tamara Shiloh

Historically, professional hockey has held fast to its tradition of lacking diversity among its players. But no Black on the ice did not hold Willie O’Ree back. He started playing hockey at age 3 and instantly had a passion for the game.

Born on October 15, 1935, in Frederickton, New Brunswick, Canada, O’Ree at the age of 14 years old, played with his brother Richard in organized hockey. Within a year, he was playing with the Frederickton Falcons in New Brunswick Amateur Hockey team.

O’Ree played in Canada with the Quebec Frontenacts in the 1954-55 Junior League and the Kitchener Canucks of Ontario during the 1955-56 season. It was during this season that he lost 95% of his vision in his right eye after being hit by a puck. He also suffered a broken nose and cheekbone. Knowing that the NHL bylaws would prevent him from playing with the eye injury, he kept it a secret.

After one year in Ontario, O’Ree returned to play in Québec and was eighth in team scoring with the Quebec Aces in the 1956–57 season with 22 goals and 12 assists for 34 points. He would play two more seasons with the Aces in 1957–58 and 1958–59.

As a result of the relationship between the Boston Bruins and the Quebec Aces, O’Ree was called to play with the Bruins making him the first African American to play in the National Hockey League.

That same night the Bruins beat the Montreal Canadiens 3–0, so there was no fanfare in the fact that O’Ree was the first Black player to play in the NHL. Neither The Boston Globe nor The New York Times wrote anything about the historical event.

O’Ree would only play two games for the Bruins in the 1957–58 season. He returned to the team in the 1960–61 season and scored four goals and 10 assists for 14 points in 43 regular-season games. On Jan. 1, 1961, O’Ree also became the first Black player to score a goal in the NHL, in a 3–2 win over the Canadiens.

Racism continued to show its ugly head on and off the ice. On the ice there were always fans throwing things at him and players would make racial remarks and he would suffer body abuse.

However, during one game he returned the favor and broke his stick over a player’s head. During an interview, O’Ree shared that he was treated worse in the United States than in Canada.

He retired in 1979 at age 43. He has spent the past two decades as the NHL’s diversity ambassador, working to expand the sport.

O’Ree has received many accolades since his retirement. In 1998, he became the NHL’s director of Youth Development and an ambassador for the NHL Diversity program. He traveled throughout the United States promoting hockey programs, with a focus on serving economically disadvantaged children.

In 2003, he was named the Lester Patrick trophy winner for his outstanding service to hockey in the United States. O’Ree received the Order of Canada in 2010 for his outstanding service to youth development and promoting hockey within North America.

He also received the Order of New Brunswick (2005) and was named an honored member of the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame, where he was inducted in 1984. In 2018, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

In 2021, as a celebration of Black History Month, all NHL players wore a commemorative helmet decal honoring O’Ree from January 16 to February 28.

In 2022, U.S. President Joe Biden signed the Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act. The bill awarded O’Ree a Congressional Gold Medal, the U.S. Congress’ highest honor, for his contributions to “hockey, inclusion and recreational opportunity.”

O’Ree is the first player in NHL history to receive the honor.

Activism

Over 500 Attend Police-Free Event to Reimagine Safety in Oakland

Night Out for Safety and Liberation started in 2013 by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch captain and is held as an alternative to the police-centric National Night Out. Since 2013, the event has spread across the country with over 50 events scheduled this year where communities make the night about the power of community, not cops.

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Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson
Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Night Out for Safety and Liberation Events Held in More Than 50 Communities Across the Country

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

OAKLAND, CA — Over 500 people and families filled Josie de la Cruz Park in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood on Aug. 2 to enjoy performances, kids activities, and mutual aid to celebrate Night Out for Safety and Liberation (NOSL), an annual national event that redefines what safety and joy is without policing. The free community event included free diapers and books for all ages, food, bike giveaways, air purifiers, self defense training, a drag show, and performances from poets and artists such as Lauren Adams, TJ Sykes and Voces Mexicanas.

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Night Out for Safety and Liberation started in 2013 by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch captain and is held as an alternative to the police-centric National Night Out. Since 2013, the event has spread across the country with over 50 events scheduled this year where communities make the night about the power of community, not cops.

“We have been reimagining what safety means beyond police for our communities for over 25 years at the Ella Baker Center. When we create safe spaces for our community to come together and support each other, when we provide living-wage jobs so people are able to put food on their table, when we empower our children and provide opportunities for them to thrive, when we invest in healthcare and mental health resources, this is how we create real safety,” said Marlene Sanchez, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center.

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Through Night Out for Safety and Liberation, communities are creating safety not through policing but through healing and restorative justice, through creating gender affirming spaces and protecting trans and LGBTQIA communities, through reinvesting funding into community-based alternatives and solutions that truly keep communities safe.

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

“We don’t need more police in our streets. We don’t need more surveillance. What we need is resources!” said Jose Bernal, Organizing Director with the Ella Baker Center. “What we need is housing, diapers, legal resources, jobs. This [Night Out for Safety and Liberation] is what keeps us safe. This is resilience.”

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

The event was emceed by Nifa Akosua, Senior Organizer and Advocate with the Ella Baker Center, and TJ Sykes, author and community activist–both natives of Richmond, California. The show included entertaining performances from Oakland Originalz break dancers, Voces Mexicanas mariachi band, singer Lauren Adams and a drag show from Afrika America.

“Night Out for Safety and Liberation is about neighborhood love and neighborhood safety. It’s about connecting, showing up for each other and staying connected as a community. That’s how we keep each other safe,” said Nifa.

More than 20 organizations and vendors participated in Tuesday’s event, offering community resources, face painting, giving away 500 books for all ages, and free diapers. Those participating included: Help A Mother Out, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, ACLU of Northern California, TGI Justice Project, Urban Peace Movement, Ella Baker’s Readers & Cesar Chavez Public Library, Alliance for Girls, Bay Area Women Against Rape, Centro Legal de la Raza, Common Humanity Collective, Street Level Health Project, Malikah – Self Defense, East Bay Community Law Center, Unity Council, Young Women’s Freedom Center, East Bay Family Defenders, Bay Area Workers Support, L’Artiste A La Carte, Education Super Highway, Cut Fruit Collective, and WIC.

Other Night Out for Safety and Liberation events were held in Oakland, San Francisco, Chicago, Portland, Phoenix, Denver, Minneapolis, Atlanta, St. Louis, Dallas, Houston, Waco, Hampden, Conway, Washington D.C. and other cities. Follow the conversation and see photos from events in other cities using #SafetyIs and #NOSL22.

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Activism

OPINION: Are We About to See the Permanent Exclusion of Most Black People from Construction Jobs in Oakland?

How is that possible in this city that is believed by the world to be very progressive? Most of the work goes to members of the construction unions that have historically and currently excluded Black people through a complex set of membership requirements.

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The City Council established a task force to discuss the racial issues involved in construction and the possibility of a Project Labor Agreement. The task force included some community members, including the publisher of the Oakland Post, and was mandated to address racial discrimination first.
The City Council established a task force to discuss the racial issues involved in construction and the possibility of a Project Labor Agreement. The task force included some community members, including the publisher of the Oakland Post, and was mandated to address racial discrimination first.

By Kitty Epstein

For decades Black people in Oakland have obtained 9% or less of the work hours on publicly funded construction projects. So…for jobs that are paid for by all of our tax dollars, Black residents, who make up 23% of Oakland’s population, get only 9% of the relatively well-paid work doing construction.

How is that possible in this city that is believed by the world to be very progressive? Most of the work goes to members of the construction unions that have historically and currently excluded Black people through a complex set of membership requirements.

Nationally, only 7.2% of the carpenters’ union members are Black; 8.3% of the electricians’ union members and so on. The City of Oakland has done two very thorough reports of these racial equity issues. You can find this important information at the end of this story.

But the leadership of the construction trades now insist that that they should obtain an even larger portion of the construction hours and that this practice should be set in stone by something called a Project Labor Agreement. It is now being inaccurately called a “Community Workforce Agreement,” which is nonsense because it doesn’t help the community.

Why would progressive Oakland consider giving exclusive benefits to organizations that practice well-documented racial discrimination? At least one part of the reason is that the construction unions spend enormous amounts of money on Oakland elections. They were instrumental in former City Councilmember Desley Brooks’ defeat in District 6, for example, because they did not consider her sufficiently compliant with their demands.

The City Council established a task force to discuss the racial issues involved in construction and the possibility of a Project Labor Agreement. The task force included some community members, including the publisher of the Oakland Post, and was mandated to address racial discrimination first.

The community members proposed that the entire task force work collectively throughout the process of making proposals and negotiating solutions. The City rejected this proposal and began meeting with the building trades alone, saying that they would return with a proposed Project Labor Agreement, although there has been no demonstrated change in the racial exclusivity practiced by the construction trades.

This is outrageous on three levels:

  1. These are the tax dollars of Black residents, as well as others.
  2. The community’s interests in racial justice have not been resolved in any policy venue.
  3. The community belongs at the table throughout whatever process takes place.

The usual arguments for labor/employer negotiations do not apply. The construction unions are NOT city workers. If they were city employees, they would have both the rights (negotiations) and the responsibilities (non-discriminatory hiring) of the city. Since they are not held responsible to Include Black people in their organizations, they should not have the right to exclusive negotiations about anything

I am hopeful, of course, that the City will reject the continuation and expansion of racial discrimination policies practiced by the leadership of the trades unions and will insist on the drastic changes necessary for Black people to obtain 23% of the work hours they are due by virtue of their proportion of the population and tax dollars contributed.

These two documents below provide information that is both illuminating and horrifying.

Oakland Equity Indicators: https://www.oaklandca.gov/projects/oakland-equity-indicators

Disparity Study – https://www.postnewsgroup.com/disparity-study-examines-patterns-of-discrimination-seeks-remedies-for-city-practices-of-selecting-contractors-in-construction-goods-and-services/

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Activism

The California Department of Aging: There Is Help for Elder Californians

Part of the statewide plan for addressing the Black elder community is to partner with ethnic media organizations to spread the word about the resources that are available to Californians in the advanced phase of their aging process. DeMarois, much like Nevins, acknowledged that a large portion of the state’s plan to reach Black elders is through local churches.

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Sharon Nevins, director of San Bernardino County’s Department of Aging and Adult Services, Cheryl Brown and CDA Director Susan DeMarois talk to a group of community members. CBM staff photo.
Sharon Nevins, director of San Bernardino County’s Department of Aging and Adult Services, Cheryl Brown and CDA Director Susan DeMarois talk to a group of community members. CBM staff photo.

By Aldon Thomas Stiles California Black Media

The St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church’s Commission on Social Action held a community meeting on aging last Thursday in San Bernardino with representatives from the California Department of Aging (CDA) and the Bernardino County’s Department of Aging and Adult Services.

Held in the sanctuary, the discussion featured state representatives and Social Action Commission members led by former Assemblymember and Commission Chair Cheryl Brown, who represented the 47th Assembly District in San Bernardino County from 2012 to 2016.

Brown spoke with community members and leaders from San Bernardino and Riverside counties about programs and resources available for elderly Californians and the caregivers who look after them.

“The state has set aside millions of dollars to help older Californians have a better quality of life through the Master Plan for Aging. And caregiving is fourth of the five goals established in the state’s Master Plan for Aging,” Brown told California Black Media.

CDA Director Susan DeMarois also attended the meeting.

CDA administers programs that serve older adults, adults with disabilities, family caregivers, and residents in long-term care facilities throughout the state. It has a $450 million budget and according to its Strategic Plan, CDA’s first objective is to advance Gov. Gavin Newsom’s California Master Plan for Aging.

Newsom’s master plan was introduced as an executive order in the summer of 2019. Conceptualized as a five-point plan, its framework encompasses housing, health, equity, caregiving “that works” and affording aging.

According to DeMarois each point of the governor’s master plan has its own budget and will be implemented over the next eight years.

During the meeting — titled “Lunch, Listen and Learn” — community members expressed their concerns and suggestions specifically regarding how to take care of elderly Black people in the Inland Empire. A major theme of the discussion was ensuring familiar (traditional) modes and channels of communications that were being employed to reach Black elders.

Sharon Nevins, director of San Bernardino County Department of Aging and Adult Services, spoke about ways in which the county has been involved in addressing those concerns.

“We have staff out there in the community, putting information in hands,” said Nevins.

Nevins emphasized the significance of Black churches and their unique influence on Black elders in California.

“We definitely reach out to the churches. We’ve always done that,” Nevins said.

DeMarois hailed San Bernardino as a model for the rest of the state because the city has been “meeting the needs of the whole person.”

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), California was tied with Hawaii in 2019 for the states with the nation’s highest life expectancy at an average of about 81 years.

Riverside County has a life expectancy of 80.3 years and San Bernardino County has a lower expectancy at 78.8 years.

Part of the statewide plan for addressing the Black elder community is to partner with ethnic media organizations to spread the word about the resources that are available to Californians in the advanced phase of their aging process.

DeMarois, much like Nevins, acknowledged that a large portion of the state’s plan to reach Black elders is through local churches.

“It’s multi-pronged,” said DeMarois. “We know in the Black community faith is a proven path.”

One of the organizations mentioned during the community meeting – an organization that DeMarois claims she took note of – is the Inland Empire Pastor’s Association.

DeMarois expressed the need for the state and local agencies to implement “coordinated strategies” to approach challenges facing the state’s aging population.

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Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson
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