Upon gaze upon the cover of the graphic novel memoir’s depiction of a distantly staring boy standing next to a bus, Akim Aliu immediately remembers the pain of growing up poor and black in Toronto.
From hours spent alone riding public transportation to and from arenas across town, to straps of duct tape holding together a garage sale-bought hockey equipment bag over his shoulder, a depiction of a teenage Aliyu hits home. Aliyu was born in Nigeria to mixed-race parents and 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 sadness, a lot of sad days, a lot of tears, a lot of uncertainty and feeling isolated and, to be honest, feeling left out, feeling like myself.” Doing ‘are not part of society as it stands,’ said Aliyu, now 32. “It’s powerful, and it really affects me. And I hope people take the time to digest it, and learn a little more about my story.”
The graphic novel, titled “Akim Aliu Dreamer: Growing Up Black in the World of Hockey,” is due out in February, and is being co-released by Scholastic and the publishing company of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The release, announced Thursday, comes on the heels of Kaepernick’s own best-selling picture book, “I Color Myself Different,” which details a similar story of an athlete who gets ahead of his game by speaking out on inequality. She goes.
Aimed at an audience of 8 to 12 years old, Aliyu shares her journey dealing with the difficulties of assimilation in Ukraine and Canada. It details the horrific and systemic racism he experienced in pursuing his dream of playing pro hockey before finding his voice in forcing the sport of hockey to confront his prejudice against people of color.
Aliyu was a travelsman minor leaguer who appeared in seven NHL career games with the Calgary Flames over two seasons before making two life-changing social media posts in November 2019.
After the allegations turned out to be true, Aliyu revealed that Flames coach Bill Peters had bullied and abused him when he was in the minors a decade ago. Peters resigned a few days later, and Aliyu’s revelations prompted the NHL to institute a personal conduct policy to eradicate racism in what was traditionally a white-dominated sport.
Aliyu has since co-founded the players-backed Hockey Diversity Alliance to raise awareness and make hockey more accessible to minorities and disadvantaged youth.
Aliu said that he never imagined himself to be the subject of a graphic novel, and does not consider himself some sort of superhero. He hopes that sharing his past helps ease others’ feelings of hopelessness.
Aliu, who last played pro hockey in the Czech Republic in the final weeks of the 2019-20 season, said, “For the longest time, I think hockey took a lot from me because I was trying to fit into this mould. ” “I came to peace in a way where I was happy in my own skin.”
The book is being co-written by Greg Anderson Elysee, a Haitian-American author and filmmaker, and illustrated by Karen de la Vega, who is beginning her publication.
Aliu’s message of speaking out against injustice is also now rooted in her, looking at the war in Ukraine, and in horror footage of her former neighborhood ravaged by shelling. With a Nigerian father and Ukrainian mother, Aliyu spent most of his first nine years living in Kyiv before his family moved to Canada.
He is now working in the process of bringing his mother’s family and others to Canada, which began with his grandfather relocating from Kyiv a month before the Russian invasion. He said he is in touch with Canada’s UN ambassador Bob Rae to expedite the visa process for refugees, and is also donating $50,000 to Ukraine-based charitable foundations.
Just as he was bullied during a horrific incident during his rookie season in the Ontario Hockey League, Aliyu sees Russian President Vladimir Putin doing the same to Ukraine: “You can’t understand how a human can care so much about humans.” power and greed and arrogance.”
Long gone are the days when Aliyu was so embarrassed to ride public transportation that he kept it a secret from his peers, or the man who was too afraid to speak up on racism for fear of jeopardizing his career. He believes that he is strong for all the adversities he has faced.
Aliu’s nickname, “dreamer,” has taken on a deeper meaning over time. People initially started calling him because Aliyu was Nigerian, just like former NBA star Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon.
Today, the surname better describes the person he has become.
“I think there’s this conversation, especially in the game of hockey, that never really happened at this stage,” Aliyu said. “And I would like to say that I had a part in coming up with my story and really didn’t hold back from the establishment on my desire to make a difference. And I will continue to dream.”