NEW YORK — Powerful. Moving. Impactful.
Kevin Weekes, the NHL Network analyst and former NHL goalie, used those three words multiple times as he toured the NHL Presents American Legacy Black Hockey History Tour mobile museum parked on 33rd Street outside Madison Square Garden on Saturday.
Weekes, who is of Bajan-Canadian descent, walked through the museum by himself before touring it with players, parents and coaches from the Ice Hockey in Harlem organization.
“Luckily people were here because I started to get kind of emotional about it, because you see the impact,” Weekes said. “To see how far it’s come, it’s really powerful man.”
The mobile museum is a concept born out of a joint partnership between the NHL and American Legacy Magazine, which celebrates African American history and culture. The League was looking for new and innovative ways to celebrate Black History Month and the magazine was looking to partner with the NHL to celebrate the League’s black history.
This is the 11th year American Legacy Magazine has done a themed mobile tour. The truck will also make stops in Newark, New Jersey; Nashville; Tampa; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Philadelphia and Washington this month.
“It’s to take history right into the neighborhoods,” said Rodney J. Reynolds, the founder and CEO of the magazine. “We had the opportunity to provide an initial proposal to the NHL for consideration and they loved it. When they started looking at what they were going to do for Black History Month this year we really increased our level of talks. We actually had our first meeting in Detroit on Dec. 19, so you can see how quickly everything came together.”
The NHL joined with Kwame Mason, who wrote, produced and directed the documentary “Soul on Ice: Past, Present and Future,” which tells the story of black history in hockey, to help American Legacy Magazine curate the museum. They obtained artifacts from the Hockey Hall of Fame, the family of Herb Carnegie, who is widely considered to be the best black hockey player to never play in the NHL, and from the Black Cultural Center for Nova Scotia.
The museum features pictures, artifacts and historical documentations of Carnegie and the pioneers of black hockey history from Colored Hockey League from the 1800s in Nova Scotia. Black women in the game, including Hockey Hall of Famer Angela James, black hockey families and black Stanley Cup champions, most recently Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly and defenseman Madison Bowey, are featured in exhibits.
There is a wall of achievements featuring P.K. Subban, Dirk Graham, Grant Fuhr and Jarome Iginla among others. Mason’s documentary, “Soul on Ice,” is constantly playing, and a television screen has a never-ending loop of all the black players who have played in the NHL, with information about each, in alphabetical order by their last name.
“I think about the different years and all the players and all the materials and history,” said Nellie Gonzalez, a nine-year-old who plays defense and forward in the Ice Hockey in Harlem organization. “It makes me feel like I’m not the only one who cares about ice hockey.”
Gonzalez said she was most moved by the exhibit featuring the women’s players.
“It’s important because I’m a female ice hockey player,” she said. “Angela James, she’s one of the best. It makes me say I can believe in myself too.”
As he watched the kids go from exhibit to exhibit with their parents and coaches, Weekes marveled at how far the game has come, most notably how far inclusion in the game has come.
“In first grade, I drew myself playing in the net with a scoreboard and the NHL logo on it. I was six years old,” Weekes said. “So right from when I was six that was my goal, I was going to play in the NHL, I was going to make the league. The reason I tell you that is from there, from the sacrifices my parents made, the support from my parents, my sister, different family members, it’s a very lonely road. It’s a lonely road when you are doing something that is considered to be unconventional. From that to this now, to have this here, it’s moving.
“We never had this growing up. I had to find it. … If I take it back to this age, this is so powerful for these kids and these parents because it gives them context and it gives them a deeper understanding as to the possibilities. For us, the possibility was only my belief. It’s different now. Now they can see it. It’s tangible. This helps them believe.”