When Akim Aliu was a young boy, he and his family moved to Canada. His parents wanted a better life for their two sons. Akim’s father is Nigerian, and his mother Ukrainian. Whether they lived in Ukraine, Nigeria, or Canada, the family faced discrimination and bigotry.
Things didn’t improve when Akim developed a love of ice hockey. Money was tight, and the sport wasn’t welcoming to children of color. Still, Akim’s parents did everything they could to help him follow his dreams.
Akim made it all the way to the National Hockey League. But he faced systemic racism at every level of the game. He’s now speaking out in the hope that a new generation of young athletes won’t have to endure the brutality he did.
In this Black History Month episode, Akim talks with host Suzanne McCabe about Dreamer, his new graphic memoir for 8- to 12-year-olds. Co-authored by Greg Anderson Elysée, the book is illustrated by Karen De La Vega and Marcus Williams, and published by Scholastic Graphix and Kaepernick Publishing.
Akim also founded the Time to Dream Foundation and is co-chairman of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, where he continues his mission of broadening access and eradicating racism in youth sports.
Dreamer: Akim’s graphic memoir for 8- to 12-year-olds is co-authored by Greg Anderson Elysée and illustrated by Karen De La Vega and Marcus Williams.
Hockey Diversity Alliance: Find out how the organization that Akim co-founded is changing the face of hockey.
Racism in the NHL: As this New York Times article explains, Akim publicly addressed racism in the hockey world in 2020.
35 Books for Black History Month: These titles for grades K-12 celebrate individuals whose contributions have changed the world.
Akim Aliu, co-author, Dreamer
“The whole goal around doing this book was to inspire the next generation of kids who look like me, Black and Brown kids, but also at the same time, the kids who are socio-economically disadvantaged. My story is one that had a lot of trials and tribulations, but I also learned a lot through my journey.”
“It’s a book to inspire people who are going through tough times, to know that anything is possible. I’m a kid who was born in Africa who ended up making it to the NHL.”
“Hockey . . . is my passion, and it’s my love. I’m glad I got those $10 pair of skates, because they gave me an opportunity to be where I am today.”
“Starting at such an early age, at 11, 12 years old, and hearing the N-word being hurled at you, and not being able to do anything about it…. The hardest thing about it was just never, ever playing with anybody else who looked like me.”
“In my 12 years that I played professionally, I played with one other player of color…. There’s not really anybody to turn to that you can have a conversation with, that would understand what you’re going through.”
“There are a lot of kids who look like me and come from the areas that I come from that also deserve an opportunity and deserve not to be excluded from our game.”
“For me, dreaming and faith go hand in hand because . . . it’s believing in something that you can’t yet see.”
“I hope kids don’t give up on their dreams.”
→ Special Thanks
Producer: Constance Gibbs
Sound engineer: Daniel Jordan
Music composer: Lucas Elliot Eberl
→ Coming Soon
Ruchira Gupta: I Kick and I Fly
Brian Selznick: Big Tree