June 20, 2011
BOSTON — On Saturday, tens of thousands of smiling, cheering, even crying fans lined the streets of Boston from the TD Garden to Copley Square to Fenway.
Some faces in the crowd were painted yellow and black in honor of the Bruins, who were parading their shiny new Stanley Cup through the city. But Henry Young, from Roxbury, is naturally a person of color.
Young was one of the many fans who made the crowd a mixture of races, ethnicities and gender. Some hope that this show of diversity will redefine what has long been the stereotype of a Boston Bruins fan.
Wearing his faded Bruins jersey, Young, who is in his late 40’s, says he’s no fair-weather fan.
“I grew up in Boston. I grew up actually as a Bruins fan,” Young said. “I remember the Stanley Cups in 70 and 72. It’s been a long time coming. I’m celebrating.”
Boston’s sports have not always engendered such positive race relations. Most notably, the Boston Red Sox were the very last baseball team to integrate.
But by contrast, the Bruins were the first NHL team to hire a black player. New Brunswick-born left-wing, Willie O'Ree played from 1957 to 1961. Young says O’ Rees' legacy inspired him to take up the sport.
“We played street hockey in my neighborhood, and a lot of us grew up playing street hockey in Roxbury and watching Gerry Cheevers and Terry O’Reilly, Esposito,” Young said, naming his other favorite players.
Further along Newbury Street as fans streamed toward the subway, members of the Desoto and Montiero families stop for a moment to talk about the team that has always been popular in their Cape Verdean neighborhood in Boston.
They said people in their neighborhood like all sports, but students are usually encouraged to play baseball or basketball. Boston Public Schools, they said, should have a hockey league.
While many in the crowd are long-time fans of Boston hockey, others are newcomers to the sport and the city. Zinzilay Brooks, a student at MIT, said until this win, she could not imagine being at a celebration of professional hockey. Especially one in Boston.
“My dad knew Boston as a place that was hostile, especially as a young black man growing up in the 60’s and 70’s. He was kind of unsure about sending his daughter there,” Brooks said, and laughed. “I gotta go home and tell Daddy that I was at a Bruins parade today and I don’t know how he’ll react.”
“It’s 2011. Times have changed,” said Alex Webley from Methuen, an African American who proudly shows off his Bruins colors.
And standing nearby, Neha Patadia, whose family comes from India, says she was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of the crowd.
“I did not expect Boston to come together, I was surprised, but I think its winning that really brings people together,” Neha said.