WATCH —  Akil Thomas on his winning goal, being black and playing hockey

Arjun Ram
Story by Arjun Ram • CBC Kids News • Published 2020-02-27 07:00

Thomas reflects on Black History Month

If you were a black kid wanting to play hockey in Canada 100 years ago, you would have faced some uphill battles.

That’s something that Akil Thomas is acutely aware of.

The 20-year-old forward with the Peterborough Petes knows that the fact that he’s black isn’t standing in the way of his dreams of playing in the NHL.

“I'm pretty grateful because it's not really an issue for me,” he told CBC Kids News in an interview for Black History Month.

A man reacts after scoring a goal in hockey

Akil Thomas reacts after scoring the fourth and final goal during the gold medal game at the world junior hockey championship in Ostrava, Czech Republic, on Jan. 5. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Thomas, who is originally from Scarborough, Ont., was picked in the second round of the NHL draft for the L.A. Kings in 2018.

He’s become a household name in Canada since scoring the winning goal for Canada at the world junior hockey championship in the Czech Republic in January.

Akil Thomas on scoring the winning goal at the world juniors:

 

Thomas knows that it was very different for players like the members of the Colored Hockey League, a black-only league founded in Halifax in 1895.

“They weren't really accepted just because of the colour of their skin,” said Thomas.

“It means something to me obviously because I know a lot of people had to pave the way for you know, coloured hockey players like myself…. Without them I don’t know if I’d be here or not.”

A stamp with an old image of black people playing hockey outside.

In January, Canada Post issued a stamp marking the 125th anniversary of the inaugural season of the Colored Hockey League. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Social media helps combat racism

Thomas said that for him, it hasn’t always been smooth, though.

“I've only really been targeted racially at hockey games a couple of times,” he said.

He credits social media with confronting racism when it comes up in pro hockey leagues.

“You look at you look at social media and you know, if someone gets suspended or someone calls someone someone something, then everyone finds out about it,” he said.

Fans sit in a hockey rink with a sign that reads Congratulations Akil, Team Canada #1

 Family members await Thomas' arrival after the world juniors in January. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

In January, an AHL player, Brandon Manning, was suspended for calling Boko Imana a racial slur.

“It's real life,” Thomas said. “So you know some bad things happen and will happen once in a while.”

Thomas said he’s glad the league suspended Manning and that people wouldn’t stand for racism in pro hockey.

“The league has to take action,” he said. “Obviously it will look bad if everyone knows about something and the league doesn't take action.”

What is Black History Month?

Black History Month takes place every year in February.

It’s an opportunity for Canadians to learn about the history of black Canadians, their contributions and struggles.

Check out Arjun’s interview with Akil Thomas here:


Pictured above: Left: Akil Thomas warms up during practise at the Team Canada world juniors selection camp in Oakville, Ont. Right: The Colored Hockey League brought black players together from 1895 to the 1930s.

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About the Contributor

Arjun Ram
Arjun Ram
CBC Kids News Contributor
Arjun Ram is a Grade 9 French immersion student from Hamilton, Ont., with many diverse interests such as sports, music and math. Arjun has developed an interest in reporting on social and political issues as well as important developments in the area of professional sports. He hopes to one day work as a news anchor for CBC.