Renee Hess was just a hockey fan in California when she noticed a lack of representation of Black women in the game. Wanting to create an inclusive and supportive space, the Black Girl Hockey Club (BGHC) was born.
“Renee noticed that when she went to games, she always felt really awkward and excluded, so she figured, why not make a club for Black women in hockey,” said Saroya Tinker, Executive Director of Black Girl Hockey Club Canada. “Renee has never played hockey, but a lot of girls that started out in Black Girl Hockey Club were just fans.”
Tinker got involved with the BGHC when she began volunteering on the scholarship committee. As a professional hockey player, Tinker saw an opportunity to raise money for the BGHC during the National Women’s Hockey League bubble in 2021.
“I set my goal at $5,000 and we ended up raising $32,000,” said Tinker. “We realized there was a lot of interest from Canadian companies. Obviously hockey’s huge in Canada and there was already a network of girls in the Greater Toronto Area, specifically. So we decided to broaden our network and move the BGHC across the border to Canada and implement our programming here.”
BGHC Canada offers a mentorship program for Black women between the ages of 8 and 21, financial aid and scholarships for Black women of all ages to play, mental health and wellness resources, including subsidized therapy and focus groups and partners with NHL teams and community initiatives to create accessible, diverse and welcoming events across the country.
“We want girls of all ages to play. A Black Grandma who wants to learn how to play hockey or two years old and need your first pair of skates,” said Tinker. “I think that’s really what we’re aiming to do is create that sense of community and realize that Black women do play hockey and we’re just trying to normalize it.”
Tinker began playing hockey as a kid. Her dad, a Black man who faced his own challenges in the game, had a passion for the sport. After introducing Tinker to the game, she fell in love with the freedom of being on the ice.
“Over the course of my career, I kind of always felt like I had to take a piece of my Blackness out to fit in in the arena and those settings,” said Tinker. “The experiences that I’ve had led me to what I’m doing today and that’s my purpose - to make sure these girls have a community.”
One of the first experiences of overt racism Tinker can remember happened when she was 12 when a teammate called her racial slurs in the dressing room.
“I didn’t know how to react. I remember talking to my Dad and he explained that I’m going to have more experiences like that,” said Tinker. “Now I’m trying to make sure that their (Black girls currently playing hockey) experience is better than mine and make sure that they have a piece of representation to look at.”
Today, Tinker plays defence for the Toronto Six in the Premier Hockey Federation.
“I’m still playing, but the girls are my purpose for playing. I get to do this for them, while I’m still opening those doors, that’s what I’m here to do,” said Tinker. “I’m happy that we were able to bring the Black Girl Hockey Club to Canada and be all over North America now.”
Though Tinker is based in Ontario, she has meetings with girls from across the continent via Zoom. When she’s able, she schedules in-person meet-ups with members of BGHC Canada.
“It’s so easy to connect with people now-a-days. It’s exciting to see that we’re all across Canada. When I’m in Alberta, I always want to make sure to meet the girls,” said Tinker. “I know I’ve met a few girls in Alberta, I have a few more to meet, but it’s really exciting when we get to meet each other in person and it make it that much more special.”
For now, BGHC Canada’s main source of communication is online. BGHC Canada is on Instagram, Twitter and has an option to contact the club on their website. Tinker encourages all Black women to connect with the club and become part of the community.
“We’re such a growing community. I see new Black girls in the arena every day. In that sense we’re ‘adding to the club,’” said Tinker. “These girls are creating friendships and networking connections that are going to last a lifetime.”
BGHC Canada is welcoming of all communities. Allies of BGHC Canada are invited to attend community events or to reach out to BGHC Canada to learn how to support the club.
The first of February is National Women and Girls in Sports Day and marks the beginning of Black History Month. Listen to the Centre Ice Podcast to hear the full conversation with Saroya Tinker, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and Podbean.