Bald Black man with beard smiles in grey sweater. Grey Background.
Photo: Bradley Sheppard

A retired Black military veteran from Cape Breton who is also an diversity, inclusion, and equity consultant is hosting a series of online meetings with members of Sport PEI to talk about about racism and leadership in sports.

Bradley Sheppard said he connected with Sports PEI through Hockey PEI. Sheppard reached out to Hockey PEI after Marks Connors, a Black minor hockey player from Halifax, said he was repeatedly taunted with racial slurs at a hockey tournament in Charlottetown last November.

Five minor hockey players from PEI were suspended and ordered to take anti-racism training in response to that incident. Last month CBC reported that at least some of the players had since filed appeals.

“For them to appeal, it tells me that they don’t see there’s anything wrong with that,” said Sheppard in an interview with the Examiner. “And therein lies the reason why I’m approaching these organizations.”

Sheppard is a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant who owns and operates Sheppard Diversity Training. He said he’s currently in talks with Hockey PEI to have similar, but in-person, meetings with its members once COVID restrictions are lifted.

“I actually reached out to Hockey PEI [first] because when I saw what was going on over there … I thought about the young Black individual and what he and his family were going through,” Sheppard said. “But I also thought about the climate on the island and why this happened.”

“My role is basically I’m a community advocate. I have lived experience and I’ve been through this. I retired from the military after 20 years. I’ve experienced racism on the basketball court, in the locker room, and I know what that feels like, right? I know Black people in PEI who play the sport, who I love. And so, for me, I’m thinking about them, too.”

Sheppard said that after reaching out to Hockey PEI to lend support, he was surprised when they e-mailed him back 10 minutes later.

“Hockey PEI, in my opinion, knows there are challenges within the organization and within the sport itself. And I think they’re taking proactive measures and trying to address that,” he said.

Sheppard said he’s in communication with Hockey PEI to set up future in-person sessions, which he feels would be more effective.

“They are on board. We’re just we’re just trying to create a timeline that works best,” he said. “Plus, with this work, I know a lot of folks like to do it online, but the nuances and connections happen in person. And so, for me to do this effectively, one of my asks was, ‘Can we wait till this is in person?’ Because I don’t want a check in the box. I don’t want a one-and-a-half-hour Zoom saying, ‘Hey, we did it.’”

“We have to have the crunchy conversations in person,” he said.

Sheppard said that in the meantime Hockey PEI connected him with Sports PEI and he’s hosted Zoom sessions with that organization.

“I met with the director of Sport PEI and 25 other members of the community that signed up. I don’t know exactly what the roles and responsibilities were, but it was a full house.”

Sheppard said that in the first session he talked about the legacy of slavery, anti-Black racism, and different types of racism. In the next session he plans to talk about diversity and inclusion, unconscious bias, and empathy.

“You’ve got to remember this is new for a lot of people, right? And so most people want buzzwords, diversity, inclusion.

“But I had to get into the social context. Why is it the way we think, the way we do?”

“But then there’s outcomes that have to be met. So, you take the learning and then you create outcomes, or boundaries or, repercussions to behavior, or consequences.”

“You have folks understand why it’s an infraction. And this is why and how long you’re going to be reprimanded for because of that. Sometimes parents don’t know what they don’t know, and that’s why this is so pervasive.”

The Examiner reached out to Hockey PEI for comment on the sessions. As of this writing, we have not heard back, but we’ll update this story when we do.

Though Sport PEI is not the governing body of Hockey PEI, Sport’s PEI’s role is to provide various supports to its member organizations, including Hockey PEI.

The executive membership of Sport PEI is all white. In an interview with the Examiner, Sport PEI executive director Gemma Koughan, who attended the meeting with Sheppard, said she’s satisfied with how it went and has since received positive feedback from the people who attended. Koughan said what everyone at the session appreciated was that Sheppard used his own lens of perspective, which she said “enhanced” the messaging.

“I think for those of us of that are not [people of colour], you know, we would have conversations with other folks and they’ll say, ‘Well, you know, I’ve never I never witnessed that.’ And Bradley would say a lot of times … if it happens to a person of colour, they don’t necessarily say anything or it’s not predominant in their life. So, I think everybody was just there to listen and learn.”

“He’s been a great source of information … now that we kind of build a relationship with someone like Bradley, if we’ve got questions or we want to continue to do some more learning and even target different groups beyond just our members … maybe it’s targeting athletes that are specifically targeting coaches or officials or whatever the case may be … it’s nice to have someone that you can reach out to and [who] has that passion and knowledge to bring forth to the folks that get to sit and listen to him.”

Koughan said that Sport PEI’s next virtual session with Sheppard is scheduled for this Wednesday.

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Matthew Byard writes news, profiles, and stories of the Black Nova Scotia community. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

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