Renee Hess remembers the first time she ever went to an NHL game. The Riverside, California, native made the trip to Los Angeles to watch the LA Kings play, and she was startled by the crowd inside the arena.
“I didn’t see any faces that looked like mine,” she toldSportsNet. “I didn’t see any women of color there, any Black women. After I’d gone to a couple more live games, I started wondering, ‘Where are all the Black women fans?'”
So in 2018, Hess founded the Black Girl Hockey Club. She hoped it would bring together Black women to enjoy hockey games, learn about the sport, and celebrate the Black community’s history in the game.
“The Black Girl Hockey Club is a safe space,” Hess toldFanSided. “ not just for Black women but we have friends and family members of all genders, ages, sexualities, abilities … We have all sorts of folks in the Black Girl Hockey Club that cross all sorts of lines. I just think it’s so important for us to amplify one another’s voices.”
According to its website, The Black Girl Hockey Club mission statement centers around preventing exclusion in hockey based on race, gender, sexuality, or ability by way of insititutional racism, financial gatekeeping, and accessibility. The nonprofit provides education, scholarship opportunities and community spaces that provide Black women access to hockey.
Hess organized the club’s first ever meet-up in 2018, and used social media to help inform hockey-loving women from around the country about it. A Washington Capitals game in Washington D.C would be the gathering place. Kelsey Kolezar, who was playing professionally for the Metropolitan Riveters of the National Women’s Hockey League at the time, made the trip from New Jersey to be part of the occasion.
“It was something I knew I had to be a part of,” Koelzar told Color of Hockey. “I was surprised about the numbers, but really not surprised. I think the sport is growing a lot and catching on. Getting to do this in this setting, at an NHL game, is really, really special.”
With the help of Kim Davis, NHL executive vice president of social impact, growth initiatives, and legal affairsof, the Black Girls Hockey Club got the chance to meet several of the Washington Capitals after the game. Devante Smith-Pelley, a forward with the Capitals at the time, was impressed by Hess and her club’s commitment to the game.
“It’s awesome any time you can get people to try to grow the game for minorities and women as well,” Smith-Pelly toldNHL.com. “That’s a good organization that they started and hopefully it gets bigger and they continue to try to change the game.”
Since then, the Black Girl Hockey Club has met for games at arenas across the country, and support for the group only continues to grow.
“I’m incredibly proud that BGHC has infiltrated arenas all over the country,” Hess said in an interview with BlueJackets.com. “I love to hear stories of women meeting each other through BGHC and spending time together at games or other events because they were able to develop a connection via the mission of Black Girl Hockey Club.”
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