When you’re talking about a sports league like the NHL that has existed for over 100 years, there’s a lot of history to discuss. However, an unfortunate reality is that much of this history is lacking diversity. November 1st, 2021 marks the 40th anniversary of Val James becoming the first African-American to play in the NHL, which was a historic step to move the sport forward, but one that took far too long to happen.
As one of the most recognizable players of color in the modern era, P.K. Subban has become a face of change for the league. His reach extends farther than the sport, as he is known for his bright personality and philanthropy as much as his play on the ice.
Since joining the New Jersey Devils in 2019, Subban has continued on with these ventures, using his platform to push forward the idea that “Hockey is for Everyone.” Recently, he joined forces with Newark Arts, Red Bull, and artist Yasmin De Jesus to collaborate on a mural titled “Stronger Together.” This mural honors Black and Brown players and represents a continued commitment by Newark, New jersey to grow the arts while encouraging the community to “participate in ice hockey by reframing the sport that has historically lacked representation.”
The completion of “Stronger Together” took more than a year, with Subban and De Jesus virtually exchanging ideas in order to create something that was not only a beautiful work of art but an impactful piece that leaves a message of inclusiveness and growth that everyone can get behind.
As part of the completion of the mural, De Jesus answered a few questions for THW about how she was brought onto the project, her connection to the hockey community, and what it means to be a local Newark artist who has been able to give back to her community through her passions.
De Jesus Is a True Newark, NJ Artist
TWH: How did you get involved with the creation of the mural? You have been creating murals around Newark for a few years, so were you brought in by the city specifically for this project with P.K. Subban, or was this something you had the idea for initially?
De Jesus: P.K. Subban, Red Bull, and Newark Art’s partnered up to initiate this project. When they were looking for an artist to work with P.K. I was included as a possible candidate. P.K. chose me to collaborate with him because he was impressed by my work and appreciates that I am an artist from Newark who knows the local community.
THW: How was working with Subban? He is known around the NHL as not only one of the biggest personalities, but also one of the nicest. Did he help in the design process of the artwork?
De Jesus: Working with PK was great! He is so funny, down-to-earth, and very kind. I helped PK through the design process. I took his concept and ideas and brought them to life. It was an easy collaboration because I understood the message he wanted to convey. It was a message that was near to my heart.
THW: Were you a fan of hockey before this mural? If you were, do you have any memories of the sport that you remember fondly? If you weren’t a fan, has your time working on this mural brought you into the sport?
De Jesus: I didn’t know much about hockey before I started this project, but after researching and learning more about the sport my perspective completely changed. Especially when I found women of color who play hockey. That inspired me to get interested in watching the games. Now I find myself consistently googling the scores to see how the NJ Devils are performing.
THW: Being from Newark, what does it mean to you to be able to contribute to your home community through your artistic passions?
De Jesus: Newark is the birthplace of my talents and aspirations. It’s where I fell in love with Art and where I met my mentors and close friends in the Art world. I feel honored to be able to uplift and inspire my community through this form of expression. It’s a dream come true.
“Stronger Together” Represents Another Small Step Forward for Hockey
Obviously, the creation of one mural in Newark won’t fix the diversity problem in hockey. The sport is still coming to terms with decades of racism and discrimination, and even as more players of color take the ice each year, they face toxicity that is, frankly, unacceptable.
However, this shouldn’t detract from what works like “Stronger Together” represent. This collaboration produced not only a striking mural but a new way for the sport to reach out to a community that has been historically underrepresented.
Is this just a small step? Yes. But through these small steps, the historical impact of black and brown players on hockey will be discussed, remembered, and spread. Through these actions, the sport will continue to be pushed forward to a future where the times of player discrimination on the ice will be a memory of the past.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.