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Chatham author tackles racism in sports with new book 'On Account of Darkness'

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A Chatham-Kent sports journalist is celebrating the recent release of his new book that explores a history of racism in sports.

Ian Kennedy said the aim of “On Account of Darkness” is to make some change by shining light on race and sports, saying systemic issues remain today.

“It's a deep dive into Canada's history of racism but through the lens of sports.”

The author and educator said more than 100 years’ worth of stories about athletes who prospered during times of systemic racism and social injustice are detailed in the book.

“We use stories of athletes to talk about issues that might otherwise for some people be difficult to look into,” Kennedy explained. “But sports is just like any other part of society, and of Canada and we kind of have this reputation that Canada is an all-inclusive, all welcoming country, but if you look at our history of residential schools and slavery in Japanese-Canadian internment camps, it's not really our truth.”

Some of the athletes featured in the book include baseball hall-of-famer Fergie Jenkins, professional fisher Bob Izumi and Gerry Binga, the only Black hockey player on the Blenheim Golden Blades.

Kennedy said the pandemic afforded him the time to research the book with a lack of live sports taking place.

“It takes us right through the development of sport from the time of colonization and some of the athletes that came to our area through the Underground Railroad to World War Two, Japanese-Canadian athletes moving to this region, right up to now, because we can't say that racism is a thing of the past,” he said.

“It's obviously ongoing in all professional sports and minor sports. So to make sports and athletics as accessible, welcoming and safe for everyone, it's a conversation that needs to be ongoing, not something about the past exclusively.”

Some of the proceeds from the book will go towards Chatham’s Black Mecca Museum.

The executive director of the Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society Samantha Meredith said the book is an important account of not only Black Canadians in sport but other racialized communities that are often left out of mainstream memory.

“It doesn't just talk about Black history,” Meredith said. “It talks about Indigenous history, Japanese history, histories of residential schools, slavery, the Underground Railroad, internment camps in the Chatham-Kent area, so it kind of touches on anything and everything that is so often done in history.”

Meredith told CTV News Kennedy spent many hours at the museum researching materials.

“This book, it definitely gets into all the hard histories, but it tells it in a truthful way and uses the voices of either the people in the sports or their family members passing down oral histories,” she said.

Kennedy founded the Chatham-Kent Sports Network (CKSN) in 2011 covering both amateur and professional athletes. He’s been published in Yahoo Sports, The Hockey News and Outdoor Canada.

A book launch celebration will take place at the Sons of Kent Brewery on Saturday, June 4, and at the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum on June 11.

Kennedy said his goal is to start conservations about systemic racism and to preserve the stories from the past.

“I never call myself a storyteller in this because I don't believe they're my stories,” he said. “I'm just out here to preserve a history and hopefully, as the book title says, shine a light on some untold stories that we haven't heard about enough.”

On Account of Darkness is available at book stores in Canada, and the U.S., as well as online.  

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