By Kieran Heffernan
Though the pandemic has put its launch on hold, Yvan Mongo is eager to get started with his Mongo’s Brave Buddies program.
The forward on the University of Ottawa hockey team came up with the program with the help of men’s hockey head coach Patrick Grandmaitre shortly after the death of George Floyd.
“I was having a conversation with my coach and he was just trying to show me support, and the conversation went towards what I could do for the community,” Mongo said. “He really pushed the idea of me doing something. And right there and then I decided I wanted to create Mongo’s Brave Buddies.”
Once pandemic restrictions ease and the program is allowed to go forward, it will let children of colour who play hockey meet Mongo, spend time with him on the ice, and attend a Gee-Gees game or practice.
“I wanted to feel like I was just having a conversation with the kids. I didn’t want them to feel like it was a burden. I wanted it to be also an enjoyable experience for them,” he explained. “Just create a bit of an event so that they really remember it.”
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Mongo said he hopes his voice as a player will be meaningful to them.
“Some kids look up to me like I looked up to players before me, and I feel like sometimes it’s easier to listen to someone you identify yourself to or idolize in a sense.”
In light of the continuing pandemic, Mongo considered adapting the Brave Buddies to an online platform, but ultimately decided against it.
“I felt like doing it online wouldn’t be the same as them actually meeting with me and seeing the game and everything that comes with participating in the Brave Buddies,” he said.
Mongo said he’s experienced a few instances of racism during his playing career, so he feels able to talk about his experience with kids who have the chance of confronting similar circumstances, or already have.
Although he feels accepted with his current team, Mongo knows what it’s like to feel like the odd one out. On most of the teams he’s played for throughout his career he’s been the only Black player.
“I remember asking my parents why I was the only Black kid,” he said, though he doesn’t remember their answer.
Overall, Mongo said his experience at the University of Ottawa has a positive one. He credits much of this to the university’s coaching staff.
“They try to recruit good people before good players. So I think I got lucky, because as soon as I got here everybody was really accepting and my ethnicity never made me feel like I was different from them,” he said.
Mongo’s Brave Buddies will be open not only Black players, but to all non-white young hockey players. “Hockey is, whether we like it or not, mainly white,” he explained.
The main message he hopes to impart to the kids in the program is that “the colour of their skin should not make them feel like they’re not at the right place playing hockey and that it shouldn’t prevent them from doing great things in hockey and in life in general.”