Toronto District School Board (TDSB) director Dr. Chris Spence had a difficult time convincing his seven-year-old son Jake of the vicious discrimination and racism that Dr. Herb Carnegie faced in his quest to make it in the National Hockey league (NHL).
A legendary hockey player in the 1930s and 40s, Carnegie was denied the opportunity to play in the NHL because of his skin colour. He was also subjected to racial taunts and the gross indignation of then Toronto Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe who has been quoted as saying he would sign Carnegie if someone could make him White.
Despite the setbacks, Carnegie created the Future Aces creed to instill self esteem and mutual respect and to enhance the overall development of the participants of the Future Aces Hockey School he set up in 1955. Nearly 200 schools in Canada, the United States, Asia, Europe and the Caribbean have adopted the creed that also encourages educators, parents and community leaders to support and steer young people towards such virtuous qualities as a good attitude, ethics, service and civic responsibility.
“I use Herb and his book (A Fly in A Pail of Milk), which is just an amazing story all the time and I tell my son, who started to play hockey a couple of years ago, about the struggles that Herb had,” said Spence who, with his wife Marcia, were recognized with an Amazing Aces award by the Herb Carnegie Future Aces Foundation recently. “He just could not believe it.”
“Herb is certainly a trailblazer and he set the table for people like my son to go and play the sport and not to be discriminated against. It’s an absolute inspiration for me and my family to be here and to be the recipient of this award.”
Spence praised his Jamaican-born wife, a communications coordinator with the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, for her unyielding support.
“I could not do it alone,” he said. “My family has been very integral to my success. They have been there encouraging and supporting me all the way. They have also made sacrifices and prayed for me.”
The former Canadian Football League player was appointed the director of Canada’s largest school board last year.
“I am proud to be the director and I love what we as a board are doing,” he said. “We are really making progress. We are about kids and that’s what I am all about.”
Prior to joining the TDSB, Spence was the director of education of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. That board comprised 120 schools and close to 50,000 students. The TDSB, on the other hand, is made up of 558 schools.
“I was able to visit all the schools in Hamilton in my first year, but doing that here in a year is impossible,” he said. “I have visited about 100 schools so far and it has been great. Part of the job is getting into schools and talking to students and staff.”
Ontario Fairness Commissioner Jean Augustine was also honoured with an Amazing Aces award as were United Way Toronto president and chief executive officer Frances Lankin, Herb Carnegie, Future Aces Foundation volunteer and theatre producer Brian Goldenberg and Glenn Hadden who, with his wife and family established an organization that reaches out to young people in communities that face challenges.