DREAMER BY AKIM ALIU
Former professional hockey player Akim Aliu tells his life-story in the graphic memoir Dreamer, co-authored with Greg Anderson Elysee and illustrated by Karen De La Vega. Aliu, who was born in Nigeria and spent his early years in Ukraine, moved to Toronto in 1997, and discovered the game of hockey. Although the game was too expensive for his immigrant parents, and, as his brother liked to remind him, “black people don’t even play hockey” his obsession with the game only grew.
Wearing a pair of $9 hockey skates purchased at at yard sale, Akim hit the ice for the first time. Like, literally hit it. He was 10 years old at the time, which, in the opinion of many, is much too old to ever dream of playing competitive hockey, let alone even dream about playing in the NHL. But Akim knew deep down that this was his game. In the book he states that finding hockey made moving to Canada make sense and felt that hockey was the thing that would “make [him] make sense”. Fast forward three years and the hockey prodigy was playing for the prestigious Toronto Marlboros Hockey Club, and then the OHL, and then the Chicago Blackhawks made Akim their second pick in the second round of the National Hockey League Draft.
Before reading this memoir, I knew nothing about Akim Aliu, but I was already rooting for the young hockey player on the front cover. I was expecting an, “overcome the obstacles” and “keep dreaming” story, but what I read was something much more important. The overt racism, the hazing, the abuse this young hockey player endured was shocking, but Aliu’s courage to stand against it is something that may very well change the future of hockey. His current organization makes me believe this even more.
Overall, Dreamer is a raw and powerful memoir that offers a firsthand account of the experiences of a Black hockey player in a predominantly White sport. Aliu’s story is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and a call to action for those who want to make sports a more inclusive and welcoming space for all athletes – which I hope is everyone.