Two 2016 Centennial graduates have launched a nonprofit to help make hockey a more welcoming sport for all cultures.
“After the George Floyd murder in 2020, I knew that I wanted to somehow be able to tie a racial justice movement into the hockey world, because that is one area that I felt I could make a difference in immediately,” explained Erik Jamison-Ekeling, who grew up playing hockey and was a team captain his senior year of high school.
Jamison-Ekeling, of Lino Lakes, began reaching out to his former teammates and his friends on social media asking if anyone had used hockey equipment sitting around that they would be willing to donate.
“I wanted to redistribute that (equipment) to folks who haven’t had the same access or opportunities to play hockey, whether for economic reasons, racial reasons … or being pushed out,” he said.
A former hockey player herself, Risha Lundgren saw Jamison-Ekeling’s post and not only wanted to donate some of her and her sister’s used equipment, but wanted to find out more about his efforts. “I was really passionate about what he was doing, and I thought it was awesome,” she said.
Lundgren, of Lino Lakes, told Jamison-Ekeling she wanted to get involved and the two dived right in to establish an organization called BIPOC Play it Forward, which officially gained nonprofit status in September 2021.
“Growing up in this community and playing in this community from my perspective of being a person of color, I would have loved to see more representation, or at least more representation advocated for coaches, or see more players that looked like me on the ice,” Lundgren recalled.
“I think that that there is still a long way to go within the game to get to that level of acceptance of all cultures, and I think that a big part of that is the fact that the barrier to entry is so high. I think that one of the things that we are trying to do is to get rid of some of those factors, or at least to mitigate some of those factors, so that people have the opportunity to at least try (the sport).”
Jamison-Ekeling added, “We want to eliminate some of those financial and kind of political or racial barriers … Eliminate the stigma that hockey is kind of a white person’s sport — because ultimately, the goal is that sports should be a community for everybody to be a part of.
“We are just trying to make sure that Centennial and the hockey community together have an embracing effect rather than driving people away if they don’t come from a background of being involved in that sport.”
One of the nonprofit’s missions is to collect donations of hockey gear and distribute it to people who may not be able to purchase expensive equipment.
“We have been collecting donations and, unfortunately, because of COVID-19, we really haven’t been able to distribute a lot of it … Not being able to host events has really been a barrier for us,” Lundgren explained. “That being said, it’s also been somewhat of a blessing in disguise as far as being able to set up the logistics of our nonprofit, so we’ve been able to do a lot of the paperwork and things like that required to get this started, so there is a silver lining there.”
BIPOC Play it Forward will host an event called Hockey is for Everyone at 7:30 p.m. May 22 at Centennial Ice Arena. During the event, all of the donated gear will be on display and available to those who need it, free of charge. A similar event will be held at 12:15 p.m. July 24 at the same location. The nonprofit is also considering holding a summer camp.
“I’m hoping the individuals that come (to our events) are able to make connections within the community so that they are able to find allies in the community, so they don’t feel like they are alone,” Lundgren said. “I think that is something that a lot of people within the Centennial community have been feeling; some of them feel ostracized or they just feel kind of like an outsider, and so we are really hoping that these kinds of events will help facilitate a bigger sense of community within a community.”
Jamison-Ekeling added, “Hockey, and sports in general, is a great way to make relationships and friendships that last potentially your entire life … Everybody belongs here and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their skin color.”
The organization has partnered with other organizations that have similar missions, including Minnesota Unbounded and the Hockey Niñas.
Jamison-Ekeling will soon graduate from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a degree in industrial design. Lundgren, a St. Olaf College graduate, currently works full time at Securian Financial as a group policy writer.
To raise funds, the organization has set up a GoFundMe (search “BIPOC Hockey Donations”) and launched a sticker store. For more information, visit www.bipocplayitforward.com.
Managing Editor Shannon Granholm can be reached at 651-407-1227 or email@example.com.