Memories of a CFL Legend — Guest Post By Jael Ealey Richardson

Chuck Ealey - Hamilton Tiger CatsI remember walking into the stadium at Ivor Wynne with my father a few years ago for a game. I was a grown adult at the time, but I still felt like a child.

Whenever I go places with my father, I feel this way. I feel like I’m in pigtails with bows on the end, holding onto his hand – those long slender fingers. I feel uncertain, unsteady. Even now, after I’ve written two books about him.

Perhaps I feel this way because there is still so much I don’t understand, so much I still can’t relate to. Or perhaps it’s because the fondness I feel for him is not well suited to a grown adult relationship. I still adore him in a way that only a small-framed child with a towering father can. I still look up to him from a distance far greater than the height that now differentiates us.

It was a perfect day for football – cold enough that the spirit of fall was on its way, but warm enough to enjoy the full breadth of the day without worrying about frigid toes and fingers. My father led the way the same way he always does, with the confidence of someone who knows where he’s going, who’s certain others will follow without having to look back for reassurance.

We stepped out into the stands, bright sun on our faces, the gold and black of Hamilton Tiger Cats fandom all around us. For a moment, we were ordinary. A father and a daughter at a football game. And then it happened.

“Chuck Ealey!”

One person called out, and that is all it takes in Hamilton – one shout, one name recognition. Grown men stood up and introduced my father to their family members. Big grins, hearty handshakes. Little boys and girls climbed over benches and clambered down concrete steps with papers and pens to get his autograph.

It was clear they did not know who he was – he had led the Ticats to the Grey Cup at that very stadium more than forty years ago. But they didn’t come to get my father’s autograph because they recognized him. They came because they knew – because someone told them or because they felt it – that my father was someone worth speaking to, someone worth keeping a record of.

Chuck Ealey and Jael Ealey Richardson


The Stone Thrower by Jael Ealey Richardson

The African-American football player Chuck Ealey grew up in a segregated neighborhood of Portsmouth, Ohio. Against all odds, he became an incredible quarterback. But despite his unbeaten record in high school and university, he would never play professional football in the United States.

Chuck Ealey grew up poor in a racially segregated community that was divided from the rest of town by a set of train tracks, but his mother assured him that he wouldn’t stay in Portsmouth forever. Education was the way out, and a football scholarship was the way to pay for that education. So despite the racist taunts he faced at all the games he played in high school, Chuck maintained a remarkable level of dedication and determination. And when discrimination followed him to university and beyond, Chuck Ealey remained undefeated.

This inspirational story is told by Chuck Ealey’s daughter, author and educator Jael Richardson, with striking and powerful illustrations by award-winning illustrator Matt James.

A Guest Post by Jael Ealey Richardson for Women’s History Month

For Women’s History Month we’re dedicating our March posts to women and their stories.


Ever since my first book came out in 2012, I have been speaking in schools about the process of writing it. At every school, without exception, a young black girl — or group of girls – comes up to talk me. Sometimes they ask a question. Sometimes they tell me how much they liked my talk. Most times they ask me to autograph a tattered notebook or a torn piece of paper.

I am always humbled by these moments. Because I remember exactly what it feels like to be them. I know what it’s like to look at a woman you are drawn to for reasons you don’t fully comprehend.

I understood this more fully last month, when I spoke to award-winning playwright Djanet Sears for the second time in my life.

***

The first time I met Djanet Sears, I was in my second year of university. We had read Harlem Duet in a course on African-Canadian literature. Djanet was invited to campus for a special class visit. I remember how she spoke, how she pointedly addressed a girl who wanted to know why the only white character in the play is never seen onstage. I remember feeling something like awe and admiration mixed up together. After the presentation, I tried to come up with something important to ask. I wanted to talk to her, get close to her, hear her say something meant for me alone. She was so grand, so powerful. I wanted that so desperately. But I was still awkward, unsure of myself, my blackness. What could I ask her?

“How do I find more monologues that I can perform for auditions that are written for black women?” I said.

She smiled in a way that delighted and frightened me. “Write your own,” she said.

At the time, I was interested in acting. I was not a writer. But her words stuck with me. I enrolled in a playwriting class two years later. The play I wrote – my upside down black face – was my first published work. Two monologues – one featuring a young, black girl – were published in an anthology. The project helped me get into graduate school, which is where I wrote my first book – a memoir about my father and about growing up black in Canada. It’s the book I’m asked to speak about in schools now.

I told Djanet about our first meeting when I saw her last month.  And as I shared that vivid memory of my first encounter with a published, black Canadian writer, I thought about all of those young girls with their tattered notebooks and torn pieces of paper, asking for my autograph.

You see, when women stand tall, when we occupy the world with the weight of our victories and our hardships firmly rooted in our bellies, younger women bear witness – dreaming bigger dreams with new hopes on their horizon — hopes that are full of anticipation and expectation of what might be possible for them despite the obstacles. We become their dreams, their new horizon. What a privilege. What an honor.

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

—   Maya Angelou


Jael Ealey Richardson is the author of The Stone Thrower: A Daughter’s Lesson, a Father’s Life, a memoir based on her relationship with her father, CFL quarterback Chuck Ealey. The book received a CBC Bookie Award and earned Richardson an Acclaim Award and a My People Award. Excerpts from her first play, my upside down black face, are published in the anthology T-Dot Griots. Richardson has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph. She lives in Brampton where she serves as the Artistic Director for the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD).

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