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.

New Releases from Groundwood this May

You won’t need to wait very long for this month’s new releases! We have two new juvenile fiction novels for YA fans, and two beautifully illustrated picture books coming out May 1st.


Flannery by Lisa MooreFlannery
by Lisa Moore
Available: May 1

Sixteen-year-old Flannery Malone has it bad. She’s been in love with Tyrone O’Rourke since the days she still believed in Santa Claus. But Tyrone has grown from a dorky kid into an outlaw graffiti artist, the rebel-with-a-cause of Flannery’s dreams, literally too cool for school.

Which is a problem, since he and Flannery are partners for the entrepreneurship class that she needs to graduate. And Tyrone’s vanishing act may have darker causes than she realizes.

Tyrone isn’t Flannery’s only problem. Her mother, Miranda, can’t pay the heating bills, let alone buy Flannery’s biology book. Her little brother, Felix, is careening out of control. And her best-friend-since-forever, Amber, has fallen for a guy who is making her forget all about the things she’s always cared most about — Flannery included — leading Amber down a dark and dangerous path of her own.

When Flannery decides to make a love potion for her entrepreneurship project, rumors that it actually works go viral, and she suddenly has a hot commodity on her hands. But a series of shattering events makes her realize that real-life love is far more potent — and potentially damaging — than any fairy-tale prescription.


Pinny in Summer by Joanne Schwartz

Pinny in Summer
by Joanne Schwartz, illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant
Available: May 1

This engaging story, told in chapter-like episodes, follows Pinny on a long, lazy summer day. As sunshine turns to rain and back to sun again, Pinny searches for a wishing rock, watches clouds, picks wild blueberries, feeds a seagull, and bakes a cake to share with her friends.

An ideal book for children beginning to make the jump to independent reading, Pinny in Summerdemonstrates the joy young people find in nature and an unstructured life. Pinny is allowed to explore her world freely, and her small setbacks and triumphs will be familiar to every child.

With charming illustrations by Isabelle Malenfant and a spare, poetic text from author Joanne Schwartz, Pinny in Summer is a bright and inviting picture book that captures all the delight of a perfect summer day.


The Stone Thrower by Jael Richardson

The Stone Thrower
by Jael Ealey Richardson, illustrated by Matt James
Available: May 1

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.


A Small Madness by Dianne Touchell

A Small Madness
by Dianne Touchell
Available: May 1

Rose and Michael are good students with bright futures. They are also in love. But when Rose gets pregnant, her behavior becomes increasingly strange as she pulls away from her best friend, and from Michael, while she struggles to cope with her predicament.

Rose cannot admit that she is pregnant (“If I say it, it will come to be true.”). She moves from denial to ineptly trying to terminate her pregnancy, to believing that she has miscarried, while deep inside, she is on a mental and emotional downward spiral. Meanwhile, Michael, in his confusion, desperation to help and fear of the wrath of his controlling father, sinks into his own kind of small madness.

Inspired by the story of two teens in the US who were arrested for hiding the girl’s pregnancy and later disposing of the baby, Touchell says, “When I saw them on TV I was amazed to see they looked like normal kids. They were from good families; they just looked destroyed. . . . I thought, there’s more than one victim here; what went on with these kids and why did they think they had no one to go to?”

 

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).

Win a Black History Month Gift Package!

Black History Month Contest

In celebration of Black History Month, we’re giving one lucky winner a copy of the upcoming title, The Stone Thrower (May 2016), and Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged!

The contest runs from February 17th to February 24th. A winner will be randomly chosen. Fill out the form below to enter!

Celebrate Black History Month with Malaika’s Costume and The Stone Thrower

February is Black History Month in Canada and the United States, a time where Black History — the people, events, and contributions — is recognized, remembered, and celebrated. To mark the start of Black History Month, we asked Nadia Hohn, author of Malaika’s Costume, a story of Malaika’s first Carnival since her mother moved to Canada, and Jael Ealey Richardson, author of The Stone Thrower, which tells the inspirational story of Chuck Ealey, about the origin story behind both books.


The Origins of Malaika’s Costume
by Nadia L. Hohn

The seeds for Malaika’s Costume come from many things.

As a child, I used to write and illustrate picture books. One of the few I still have today is called The Greatest Carnival Ever. I wrote it at the age of ten and it was influenced by a kid book talk on the television show, Reading Rainbow.

Nadia Hohn: The Greatest Carnival Ever Nadia Hohn: The Greatest Carnival Ever Nadia Hohn: The Greatest Carnival Ever

Nadia HohnCarnival in the English-speaking Caribbean started in Trinidad and although I have never been there, I attended the Caribana parade (now called Toronto Caribbean Carnival) since I was a child. I loved the festive atmosphere, costumes, and music, and I longed to be in the parade one day. (I got the chance years later in 2009, 2014, and 2015 as a grown-up.)

I wrote Malaika’s Costume for an assignment in the Writing for Children course through George Brown College in 2010. The course was held at Mabel’s Fables Children’s bookstore and is still taught by my teacher, author Ted Staunton. When I was given the picture book assignment, naturally I focused on Carnival. Yet, I wanted to tell the story from the perspective of a little girl, Malaika, set in the Caribbean and have a connection to Canada, the country in which I was born and to which my parents immigrated from Jamaica in the 1970s. As I worked on it, I soon realized that this was going to be like the stories of adults in my family and many people of Caribbean descent to the United States, UK, and Canada, which often involved years of separation from loved ones, including their children. Malaika’s Costume is a culmination of all of these things and a celebration of resilience, creativity, and resourcefulness.

MALAIKA’S COSTUME Written by Nadia HohnAbout Malaika’s Costume

It’s Carnival time. The first Carnival since Malaika’s mother moved to Canada to find a good job and provide for Malaika and her grandmother. Her mother promised she would send money for a costume, but when the money doesn’t arrive, will Malaika still be able to dance in the parade?

Disappointed and upset at her grandmother’s hand-me-down costume, Malaika leaves the house, running into Ms. Chin, the tailor, who offers Malaika a bag of scrap fabric. With her grandmother’s help, Malaika creates a patchwork rainbow peacock costume, and dances proudly in the parade.

A heartwarming story about family, community and the celebration of Carnival, Nadia Hohn’s warm and colloquial language and Irene Luxbacher’s vibrant collage-style illustrations make this a strikingly original picture book.


The Origins of The Stone Thrower
by Jael Richardson

In 2009, I wrote the memoir The Stone Thrower because I needed to know more about my dad’s story. I needed to know who he was and why he chose to move from the United States in 1972 and raise us here in Canada. A few months after the memoir came out, a teacher-friend asked me if I would turn it into a children’s book. She said there were not enough stories about African-Canadians and she wanted to be able to share important and relevant stories with her students. She said my dad was a hero and that kids should be learning about him in school. I couldn’t agree more. So I wrote it. Sometimes, I just need a bit of a nudge.

THE STONE THROWER Written by Jael Ealey RichardsonAbout The Stone Thrower

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.

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