Black Lives Here: Business and sports career inspires Chris George to support and mentor others

Local resident Chris George is an advisor and corporate ambassador for the Hockey Diversity Alliance. Photo by Mimi Liliefeldt.

By MIMI LILIEFELDT

Whether you enjoy sports or not, it is undeniable that sports have brought mankind together for hundreds of years. Sporting events like the Olympics have gathered millions of spectators from around the world to support, celebrate, and bond over their common interests. Sports range in complexity, strategy, and variety.

In Canada however, we have long upheld and cherished hockey as our nation’s iconic sport. Hockey embodies many prized elements of team sports: fair play, discipline, determination, teamwork, respect, leadership, and community. When these elements are listed, it’s easy to see how these values can and should be applied to life in general.

This month I was fortunate enough to meet with Chris George, Senior Wealth Advisor and Portfolio Manager at Scotia Wealth Management. Chris is not only a skilled and respected investment advisor but he also possesses the prestige of having been drafted in 1995 by the National Hockey League’s Colorado Avalanche.

Both of Chris’ parents were born in Jamaica and came to Canada individually to study. His father became a dentist and his mother a lab technician at Sunnybrook Hospital. They knew each other from back home but reconnected in Canada. Chris and his brother grew up in Mississauga and led a charmed life going to private school and playing hockey.

Not only did Chris play hockey, but he was a gifted athlete playing at the highest levels until he was drafted.

“I got invited to two training camps . . . I played one exhibition game in ’96, scored a goal against Calgary. So that was kind of the pinnacle of my career. I didn’t realize at the time that it was the top,” he said with a good humoured chuckle.

“Then to be honest, I didn’t make it, they offered me a not too great of a deal. I had a pretty good visibility of where I was going to be in their system. So, I decided to go to school. I had a scholarship that I had negotiated with my OHL (Ontario Hockey League) team; I had a free ride to any Canadian university.”

Through the influence of his close buddies Chris went to the University of Western Ontario. Life was going well until one night coming home by himself, he was beaten unconscious.

“I got jumped by a biker gang in London, Ontario. I was called an n-word and beaten by a guy with brass knuckles and his biker gang . . . I had 20 stitches in the back of my head . . . that’s as extreme as it (racism) can get. The nuance to it was how it felt. I couldn’t put my hockey helmet on because of the stitches so I had to miss hockey. Which to me was a big deal and I was almost embarrassed. I didn’t want to get in trouble and miss hockey. I actually felt guilt or something for getting in ‘trouble’.”

Up until his teens, Chris hadn’t faced any racism that he was aware of on or off the ice.

As he got older and played at higher levels he said, “I had many experiences (of racism) which is quite common. Especially looking back with the Hockey Diversity Alliance, the Black community came together and we’re all telling the same stories.”

The Hockey Diversity Alliance is an organization set up by hockey players whose purpose is “To eradicate systemic racism and intolerance in hockey”.

Chris acts as an advisor and corporate ambassador for the HDA. Many founders of the HDA were interviewed in the powerful and important documentary Black Ice which was released September 2022.

The documentary explores the history and experiences of Black hockey players in Canada. Many of the stories revolve around the pain of racism these players have experienced in their careers and the deliberate eradication of the Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes.

Chris shared what he felt about the documentary: “It’s amazing that we were all experiencing the exact same thing, just independently. That’s what resonates.”

In his efforts to pay it forward Chris is deliberate in his intentions to increase the success of young Black folks. For so long many of us have been working in our respective fields alone, navigating the various white spaces without any guidance or representation.

“My journey through hockey, and starting a career on Bay Street, I had different hurdles to face. A big one was you didn’t have people you could really talk to. There was no ‘Uncle John’ who worked at the firm . . . There were very few people that I could look at myself and say well ‘how did you do it? I think I could do it like you did’.

“When I talk about trying to be a part of the solution, that’s what it is. It’s like hockey and Bay Street, quite similar, the access is very tough. If you want to play hockey it’s expensive, but even once you’re in the dressing room, or into the job, you want to have support. You need mentorship. You need support. It has to be deliberate.”

Chris was very intentional when he created the Black North’s Athletes on Track program with his friend. Athletes on Track is a $5,000 bursary and mentorship program. “When we created the Black North Athletic Scholarship it wasn’t just about the 5,000 dollars, it’s an internship and a dedicated mentorship program.”

He gave an example: “A young Black student athlete from Halifax gets an internship in Toronto, and they get to meet with an established Black professional like myself every month. You’ve tackled two things, the first is getting in the door, and then once you’re through the door. When I look back, it was super isolated.

“I was trying to figure it out, you’re talking to yourself about it, you’re brainstorming with your wife, there’s no one to relate to.”

Ultimately, what Chris sees is not only the responsibility of mentorship, but the opportunity.

He is energized by the numerous possibilities for growth when we diversify and elevate each other.

Maybe Chris’ faith in working together comes from his strong family background, or maybe it comes from all his years playing hockey, but what he knows for sure is that when we have respect, determination, and teamwork, the energy and possibilities are a win for everyone.

With full clarity and enthusiasm Chris said: “The energy we have is fuel. It’s the opposite of when you’re isolated and alone. . . if we’re smart about it, we should be together and strong.”

Mimi Liliefeldt is a Beach resident and business owner. She can be reached at mimi@missfit.ca


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