Good Lives Honored

By Wayne Adams
Updated: January 22, 2008

HALIFAX, N.S. — It would appear that much more media material about black history is available compared with previous years as the United States celebrated the life and birthday of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Monday. His legacy is certainly global, and of course worthy of an American holiday.

The pre-eminent leader of the modern civil-rights movement in the U.S., King was a charismatic dissenter who embodied and transformed the African-American social-gospel tradition. He transformed America.

It’s perhaps true that the more time passes, the more vivid the meaning and purpose of well-lived lives become.

This was best illustrated this past week, when the city of Fredericton and the New Brunswick government significantly marked the 50-year milestone of hockey pioneer, and native son, Willie O’Ree.

O’Ree, regarded as the Jackie Robinson of hockey, broke the colour barrier of the National Hockey League on Jan. 18, 1958, when he suited up for the Boston Bruins.

I thought it was most fitting that both the CBC and CTV networks paid decent tributes to O’Ree’s skills, strength, and endurance in the face of racial adversity.

Barrier-breaker It can be said that O’Ree stood on the shoulders of Herb Carnegie, who could have been the racial-barrier breaker in the NHL a few years earlier, except he was told straight up by Toe Blake, that he would have been signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs – had he been white.

Carnegie, star of the Quebec Aces in the 1940s and ’50s, has been consistently described by his many hockey friends as the best player locked out of the NHL. Carnegie still feels the sting, a scar he says he will carry to his grave.

Nonetheless, Carnegie has made valuable contributions to Canada’s youth with the creation and manifestation of his coaching project, “The Future Aces” and its creed.

And O’Ree now has a stadium in Fredericton named in his honour. He works for the NHL’s Youth Diversity program, through which he travels throughout the country, encouraging and recruiting youths of diverse backgrounds to pursue hockey careers.

Last year, after being sworn into the Nova Scotia Black Hockey/Sports Hall of Fame, O’Ree committed to including Halifax in his regime. More about that this summer.

In the meantime, Canada — and indeed, the world — stopped to honour and salute another one of our black pioneers who rose to the top of his profession in spite of the racial adversity he faced.

And you’ll recall that in recent years, when in failing health and deserving rest and respect, some youthful neighbours erupted with racial epithets against him.

Yes, we’re referring to the one and only … the late, great Oscar Peterson, a man who clearly touched the hearts and minds of audiences around the world. A jazz pianist, he was known as the “Maharajah of the Keyboard.”

Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean, a neighbour of Peterson for 15 years in Little Burgundy, Montreal, before ascending to the vice-regal suite, described him as “a musical titan standing as a national treasure whose work will continue to inspire music lovers for many generations to come. I believe that Oscar Peterson’s unparalleled creativity stemmed from his unequivocal yearning for excellence.”

She also said: “When every heart joins every heart and together yearns for liberty, that’s when we’ll be free; and when every hand joins every hand and together moulds our destiny, that’s when we’ll be free.”

So we’ve identified some good men — and a good woman — whose lives have inspired others toward excellence, who have stood tall in the face of adversity. In standing tall, they have lifted many who have since stood on their shoulders to encourage and inspire others.

No more ceiling As we approach the annual heritage celebration of African North Americans, let us digest the words of Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

“So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

And also those of Rev. Jesse Jackson: “We’ve removed the ceiling above our dreams. There are no more impossible dreams.”