Transcript: Asher Hill: Breaking Barriers on the Ice | Jun 25, 2020

Nam sits in the studio. She's in her early forties, with shoulder length curly brown hair. She's wearing glasses, a gray blazer over a pink blouse, and a silver pendant necklace.

A caption on screen reads "Breaking barriers on the ice. Nam Kiwanuka, @namshine, @theagenda."

Nam says ICE DANCING IS AN INCREDIBLY DEMANDING SPORT, EVEN IF THE ATHLETES WHO EXCEL AT IT MAKE IT LOOK LIKE JUST BEAUTIFUL MOVES ON SKATES. ASHER HILL WAS A CANADIAN JUNIOR CHAMPION, WHO NOW COACHES AND CHOREOGRAPHS FOR AN UP-AND-COMING GENERATION OF ICE DANCERS. AND AMONG THE LESSONS HE'D LIKE TO INSTILL IN SKATING CULTURE, IS A CHANGE IN SKATE CULTURE. ASHER HILL IS ALSO CO-HOST OF "THAT FIGURE SKATING SHOW" ON CBC SPORTS' YOUTUBE CHANNEL. AND HE JOINS US NOW FROM PICKERING, ONTARIO FOR MORE...

Asher is in his twenties, with short curly black hair and a stubble. He's wearing a printed black t-shirt.

Nam continues ASHER, IT'S SO NICE TO MEET YOU.

Asher says NICE TO SEE YOU AND MEET YOU AND TO BE TALKING TO YOU.

Nam says EXCUSE MY IGNORANCE, BUT I DIDN'T REALIZE THERE WAS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ICE DANCING AND ICE SKATING. WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?

The caption changes to "Asher Hill. Ice Dancer and Coach."

Asher says SO WITHIN FIGURE SKATING, WE HAVE A BUNCH OF DISCIPLINES. THREE MAIN... FOUR MAIN ONES. THERE'S SINGLES, SO MEN AND LADIES. PAIRS. AND ICE DANCE. AND THEN AS WELL AS FIGURE SKATING. AND SO THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THEM, LIKE THE LADIES AND THE MEN, THEY SKATE BY THEMSELVES, THEY DO JUMPS AND SPINS. PAIRS, JUMPS, SPINS, THROWS. AND GIRL GOES OVER THE HEAD OFTEN. AND IN ICE DANCE, WE JUST SPIN AND LIFT AND OUR LIFTS NEVER KIND OF GO OVER THE HEAD. WE ARE THE SUPERIOR SKATERS.

Nam laughs and says I JUST NOTICED YOU USED "JUST." THAT'S A LOT. YOU'RE DOING IT ALL ON SKATES.

Asher says YES, BUT ALSO ON FROZEN WATER WITH KNIVES ON YOUR FEET.

Nam says WHAT DREW YOU TO ICE DANCING?

Asher says SO I STARTED SKATING AT THE AGE OF THREE BECAUSE MY PARENTS WERE BIG FANS OF FIGURE SKATING. THEY'RE JAMAICAN IMMIGRANTS. AND MY TWIN SISTER LOVED TO WATCH SKATING TOO. SO THEY PUT US BOTH IN IT, YOU KNOW. AND I HATED IT AT FIRST. I WOULD CRY ON THE ICE AND EAT THE ICE AND THEN, YOU KNOW... AND THEN MY PARENTS THOUGHT YOU'RE WASTING OUR TIME AND MONEY AND YOU'RE STRESSING US OUT. MY SISTER WOULD GO AFTER SCHOOL AND I EVENTUALLY JUMPED BACK INTO IT AND I LOVED IT AND THEN DOING FREE SKATE BY MYSELF FOR A WHILE AND THEN EVENTUALLY A WOMAN BY THE NAME OF MARY JANE STONG WITH SKATE CANADA SHE APPROACHED MY MOM AT A COMPETITION AND SAID I WOULD BE A REALLY GOOD CANDIDATE FOR ICE DANCE. AND MY MOM HAD NO IDEA WHAT THAT WAS OR ANYTHING. SO SHE WENT UP TO MY COACH AND SAID THIS LADY CAME UP TO ME AND TOLD ME ASHER WOULD BE A REALLY GOOD ICE DANCER AND HE SHOULD FINE A PARTNER. AND MY COACH AT THE TIME WAS LIKE, NO. BECAUSE I COULDN'T FIGURE OUT MY LEFT FROM MY RIGHT. I'M PRETTY SURE I GAVE HER A COMPLEX. I WAS NOT THE SMARTEST KID. EVENTUALLY I DID FIND A PARTNER AND, YEAH, I EXCELLED AT IT.

Nam says YOU SAID THAT AFTER INITIALLY YOU WEREN'T VERY GOOD AT IT. WHAT DID YOU LOVE ABOUT IT? WHAT WAS IT THAT MADE YOU... I KNOW YOUR PARENTS WERE PUSHING YOU TOWARDS IT. BUT WHAT ABOUT IT DID YOU LOVE?

Asher says I REALLY LOVE MOVEMENT AND MOVEMENT TO MUSIC, AND I WAS ALWAYS A REALLY GOOD KIND OF SHOWMAN AND LOVED TO PERFORM, AND SO MY FAVOURITE THING ABOUT ICE DANCE WAS PERFORMING AND THEN ALSO HAVING SOMEONE TO PERFORM WITH AND TO FEEL OFF THAT CONNECTION AND PORTRAY A STORY. THAT WAS ALWAYS [INDISCERNIBLE] AS WELL AS, YOU KNOW, GO FAST AND LOOK PRETTY ON THE ICE AND DO THINGS THAT PEOPLE JUST ALWAYS GO "WOW" AT. DEFINITELY MY FAVOURITE WAS PERFORMING AND GETTING INTO CHARACTER.

Nam says WE'RE HAVING THESE CONVERSATIONS ABOUT REPRESENTATION MATTERING, AND I COME FROM A FIRST GENERATION FAMILY, MY FAMILY CAME HERE AS REFUGEES, AND OUR IDEAS THAT THE ELDERS HAVE FOR YOU WHEN YOU DECIDE TO PICK A PROFESSION, YOU GO INTO THE WHITE COLLAR JOBS, YOU KNOW, YOU'RE A DOCTOR, MAYBE... MAYBE A LAWYER, MAYBE AN ENGINEER. BUT, YOU KNOW, ICE DANCING IS NOT SOMETHING THAT I WOULD... WITHIN MY FAMILY, THAT WOULD BE SOMETHING THAT I COULD EVEN IMAGINE. SO WAS THIS SOMETHING THAT YOUR PARENTS IMAGINED FOR YOU, OR WAS IT SOMETHING THAT... SOMETHING INSIDE YOU SAID THIS IS THE THING THAT I'M REALLY GOOD AT AND THIS IS WHAT I'M GOING TO DO WITH MY LIFE?

The caption changes to "Asher Hill, @asherhill."

Asher says I THINK THAT DEFINITELY MY PARENTS WERE VERY SUPPORTIVE OF US SKATING, BUT AT THE SAME TIME, LIKE SCHOOL WAS VERY MUCH IMPORTANT. LIKE, IF WE MISSED CLASSES IN THE MORNING, WE HAD A TUTOR. WE WERE STILL A-B STUDENTS AND MY MOM WAS DEFINITELY ELATED WHEN I [INDISCERNIBLE] AND A PHYSIOLOGIST AND THAT KIND OF FALLING OUT BECAUSE I DIDN'T WANT TO ANYMORE. BUT THEY WERE VERY MUCH LIKE PUSHING US, IF YOU'RE GOING TO DO THIS, YOU ARE GOING TO EXCEL AT IT. YOU ARE GOING TO TRY YOUR HARDEST. YOU'RE GOING TO PERFORM YOUR BEST, SKATE YOUR BEST, AND ALSO BEING BLACK SKATERS, YOU HAVE TO WORK... PARENTS ALWAYS DRILLED IN US NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO, YOU HAVE TO WORK HARDER BECAUSE IN A WHITE SOCIETY YOU DON'T GET THE SAME ADVANTAGES AS YOUR FRIENDS AND COUNTERPARTS.

Nam says ASHER, WHEN YOU LOOK BACK AT YOUR ATHLETIC CAREER, WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?

Asher says I'M VERY PROUD OF REACHING ONE OF MY GOALS, WHICH WAS COMPETING AT A WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP. THAT WAS REALLY COOL. WINNING THREE BACK-TO-BACK NATIONAL TITLES FROM NOVICE... SORRY, FROM PRE-NOVICE, NOVICE, AND JUNIOR. AND THEN MAKING THE NATIONAL TEAM IN MY FIRST YEAR SENIOR WITH MY PARTNER AND QUALIFYING FOR THE JUNIOR GRAND PRIX FINAL, BEING ABLE TO COMPETE INTERNATIONALLY FOR CANADA AND, YOU KNOW, BEING OFTEN THE ONLY BLACK SKATER IN THE ARENA. SOMETIMES IT FELT LIKE... DEPENDING WHAT CITY I WAS COMPETING IN AND, YEAH, JUST BEING ABLE TO SAY THAT I REACHED SO MANY GOALS THAT ELUDED A LOT OF SKATERS. I DIDN'T GET TO THE OLYMPICS, BUT I'M VERY PROUD OF THE THINGS THAT I ACHIEVED. THANK YOU TO MY PARENTS AND EVERYTHING FOR SUPPORTING ME AND, YEAH. AND WHAT I'VE BEEN ABLE TO TURN MY CAREER INTO RIGHT NOW, BEING ABLE TO BE A FULL-TIME COACH, CHOREOGRAPHER, DOING WHAT I LOVE AND THEN OPPORTUNITIES LIKE CBC "THAT FIGURE SKATING SHOW." OPENING UP FOR ME AND GETTING THAT TO DO WITH ONE OF MY GOOD FRIENDS WHO I SKATED WITH FOREVER. IT'S BEEN PRETTY COOL. BUT, YOU KNOW, I'VE BEEN ABLE TO GET ALL THESE OPPORTUNITIES JUST FROM MY SKATING CAREER.

Nam says JOB IF I'M READING TOO MUCH INTO IT, BUT IT SOUNDED, WHEN YOU WERE LOOKING BACK ON YOUR CAREER, YOU SOUNDED A LITTLE BIT SAD. WAS IT A LONELY PLACE FOR YOU TO BE WHEN YOU LOOK BACK AT THOSE ACCOMPLISHMENTS? WAS IT A LONELY PLACE FOR YOU TO BE IN?

Asher says YES AND NO. I HAD... ONE THING WITH ICE DANCE IS YOU HAVE A PARTNER, WHICH IS GREAT, AND ME AND MY LONGEST PARTNER CARIS RALPH, WE WERE TOGETHER FOR ALMOST 15 YEARS, SO YOU'RE NEVER REALLY ALONE, ESPECIALLY BECAUSE WE HAD A PRETTY GOOD RELATIONSHIP. BUT SOMETIMES, YOU KNOW, BEING THE ONLY BLACK SKATER IN A RINK, IT DID GET, YOU KNOW, TIRESOME WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT JOKES YOU WOULD HEAR, OFF-THE-CUFF COMMENTS YOU WOULD HEAR. I HAD LIKE LOTS OF GREAT FRIENDS. I FOR THE MOST PART NEVER FELT SUPER EXCLUDED. BUT I FELT THE ONLY. YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN? LIKE, YOU'RE NOT OUTSIDE OF THE GROUP BUT YOU ARE BECAUSE OF, YOU KNOW, BEING BLACK, IN A WAY. BUT BECAUSE I WAS MILDLY CHARISMATIC, PEOPLE OFTEN KNEW WHO I WAS AND OFTEN AS THE ONLY BLACK SKATER AT TIMES... I WAS VERY LUCKY WHEN SKATING AT SCARBOROUGH, THERE WAS A HUGE, YOU KNOW, CARIBBEAN DIASPORA, SO EVEN AT THE RINK MY MOM HAD HER FRIENDS OF GUYANESE AND JAMAICANS AND WE ALL HUNG OUT TOGETHER AND WE WERE VERY MIXED AT SCARBOROUGH. SO THAT DEFINITELY HELPED ME GROWING UP IN SKATING, ESPECIALLY FROM A YOUNG AGE, AND THEN YOU JUST BECOME A LITTLE BIT MORE AWARE OF THINGS AND YOU HEAR THE COMMENTS PEOPLE MAKE, THAT'S WHEN YOU START TO FEEL ANGRY, ALONE AT TIMES, BUT, YEAH.

Nam says WELL, WHAT WOULD YOU HEAR? WHAT WERE THE COMMENTS THAT YOU WOULD HEAR?

Asher says UM, SO... ONE, WHEN I WAS VERY POPULAR... SOMETIMES THE POWER WOULD GO OFF AT THE RINK AND THE FIRST THING I WOULD ALWAYS HEAR, "OH, NO, SMILE, ASHER, SO WE CAN SEE YOU AND OPEN YOUR EYES." AND I NEVER, EVER FOUND THAT FUNNY.

Nam says MEANING THAT YOU WERE TOO DARK... THAT YOU WERE DARK...

Asher says I WAS DARK AND WHEN THE LIGHTS CAME OFF, I DISAPPEARED UNLESS I SHOWED THE WHITER PART OF MY BODY, WHICH WERE MY EYES AND MY TEETH. AND, YOU KNOW... THE OUTSIDE DEFENCE MECHANISM YOU HAVE AS A PERSON OF COLOUR IN A ROOM OR ARENA THAT DOESN'T ALWAYS REPRESENT YOU, YOU LAUGH IT OFF, YOU ROLL YOUR EYES, YOU JUST KIND OF KEEP GOING, YOU LET IT ROLL OFF YOUR BACK AND YOU INTERNALIZE IT WHICH CAN CAUSE A LOT OF OTHER ISSUES, BUT THAT'S KIND OF HOW YOU SURVIVE.

Nam says WELL, YOU KNOW, IT'S... I'VE HAD FRIENDS ASKING ME HOW I AM DOING RIGHT NOW BECAUSE OF THE GLOBAL MOVEMENT FOR BLACK LIVES MATTER. HOW ARE YOU DOING?

Asher says OKAY. I'M DOING OKAY. I THINK WE'RE ALWAYS DOING OKAY BECAUSE TO US THIS HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR DECADES, YEARS AND YEARS. YOU KNOW ABOUT IT. WHEN I WAS A KID MY BIGGEST FEAR WAS THE KKK WOULD COME AND KILL MY FAMILY. SO I WAS AWARE OF RACIAL PREJUDICE AS A CHILD AND, YOU KNOW, WHEN YOU KEEP SEEING THESE SCENES OF BLACK MEN AND WOMEN BEING MURDERED AND HEARING ABOUT THESE STORIES AND THEN, YOU KNOW, MOVEMENTS RISE UP AND THEN THEY KIND OF DIE DOWN, AND I ALWAYS SAY DIE DOWN FROM PEOPLE WHO ARE SO-CALLED ALLIES, THEY'LL COME WITH ME FOR A BIT AND THEN RETREAT BACK BECAUSE IT'S UNCOMFORTABLE. WE FORGET THAT, LIKE, COLIN KAEPERNICK DOESN'T HAVE A JOB BECAUSE HE TOOK A KNEE AND BLACK LIVES MATTER USED TO BE SO INCENDIARY, IT MEANS YOU WERE LOSING FRIENDS AND YOUR JOB AND IT WAS MET WITH RHETORIC LIKE ALL LIVES MATTER AND BLUE LIVES MATTER WHICH IS VEILED RACISM BECAUSE IT WAS ONLY WHEN PEOPLE WERE TALKING ABOUT HOW BLACK PEOPLE WEREN'T BEING VALUED AS OTHER PEOPLE IN THIS COUNTRY, IN THIS WORLD, YOU KNOW?

Nam says YOU BROUGHT UP THE NFL. THE NFL IS ONE OF THE ORGANIZATIONS, ALONG WITH SKATE CANADA AND A WHOLE OTHER... SO MANY OTHER ORGANIZATIONS WHO HAVE TWEETED POSTS OF SUPPORT WITH THE BLACK COMMUNITY IN ADDRESSING ANTI-BLACK RACISM. SO SKATE CANADA HAD A TWEET. PART OF THAT TWEET SAID SKATE CANADA SUPPORTS A SAFE, OPEN, AND INCLUSIVE ENVIRONMENT FOR EVERYONE. AND YOU RESPONDED. SO WE HAVE PART OF THE TWEET THAT YOU SENT. IT SAID: I'M TERRIFIED THAT YOU'LL TRY AND TAKE AWAY MY COACHING LICENCE, BUT I CAN'T STAND FOR THIS. I'M SUPPOSED TO BE MOURNING MY GRANDMOTHER, AND HERE I AM BEING RETRAUMATIZED BY YOUR SO-CALLED ALLYSHIP TO END POLICE BRUTALITY AND RACISM. ENOUGH. WHAT DID SKATE CANADA TWEET THAT UPSET YOU?

Asher says SO PRETTY MUCH LIKE THE FIRST SENTENCE AND THE WHOLE POST BECAUSE DURING THIS WHOLE YEAR OF 2019 TILL NOW, I HAD BEEN DEALING WITH A RACIST HOMOPHOBIC, MISOGYNISTIC COLLEAGUE AT THE SKATE CANADA CLUB I WORKED AT. IN JUNE I HAD FINALLY HAD ENOUGH. THERE WERE OTHER FACTORS LIKE MY SISTER ALSO WENT THROUGH THE CLUB BEING... YOU KNOW, I HAD MY OWN PERSONAL EXPERIENCES WITH THE COACH AND THEN MY SISTER WAS ALSO HAVING A LOT OF ISSUES WITH THE CLUB AND THE BOARD, AND SO I WAS JUST LIKE, OKAY, I NEED TO FINALLY COME FORWARD. AND SO THE CLUB SAID THEY WOULD DO THEIR OWN INVESTIGATION WITH A THIRD PARTY BECAUSE THE CLUB WAS FAVOURABLE TO THE COACH IN QUESTION, I CONTACTED SKATE CANADA AND I TOLD THEM, PLEASE DO YOUR OWN INVESTIGATION FOR ALL THESE INVESTIGATIONS BECAUSE I DO NOT TRUST THE CLUB, I DON'T THINK IT'S GOING TO BE OBJECTIVE, I DON'T THINK THE COACHES THERE ARE ALSO REALLY GOOD FRIENDS WITH THE PERSON I'M MAKING A COMPLAINT ABOUT AND HE'S BEEN GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER. THEY HAVEN'T DONE ANYTHING. PLEASE DO YOUR OWN INVESTIGATION. THEY DID NOT. I FELT THE INVESTIGATION WAS NOT DONE PROPERLY. THEY HAD INVESTIGATED LIKE FOUR WITNESSES WHEN I HAD GIVEN THEM WELL OVER EIGHT... MORE THAN DOUBLE THAT. AND THE INVESTIGATION ALSO HAPPENED ONCE I LEFT THE CLUB, AND SKATE CANADA, YOU KNOW, ABDICATED THEIR DUTIES. THEY PIGGYBACKED DIRECTLY OFF THE FINDINGS OF THAT INVESTIGATION. AND EVEN WHEN I BROUGHT IN NEW INFORMATION AFTER I APPEALED THE DECISION TO HOLD ME IN CONTEMPT OF BULLYING AND HARASSING AND ALL THAT STUFF, THEY DIDN'T SEEM TO READ THE NEW EVIDENCE, DIDN'T INTERVIEW ANY OF THE OTHER COACHES, DIDN'T INTERVIEW ANY OF THE PARENTS WHO MADE THE SAME COMPLAINTS ABOUT THE COACH, AND, YEAH. TO BE FOUND TO BE THE BULLY AND HARASSER AFTER BLOWING THE WHISTLE ON SOMEBODY WHO, YOU KNOW, WOULD SAY THINGS LIKE, "THAT'S WHY I DON'T COACH BLACK KIDS." OR CALLING LATINOS LAZY OR REFERRING TO BLACK PEOPLE WITH THE "N" WORD AND TO COME FORWARD WITH MY EXPERIENCE WHICH WAS SO HARD AND TO TURN AROUND AND NOW YOU'RE THE PROBLEM AND NOW WE'RE GOING TO REPRIMAND YOU AND PUT A LETTER ON YOUR WHILE, WHERE IF YOU STEP OUT OF LINE AGAIN, YOU COULD LOSE YOUR LICENCE AND THAT IS A...

Nam says SKATE CANADA HAS REACHED OUT TO YOU AND THEY SAID THEY HIRED A THIRD-PARTY INVESTIGATOR WHO CONCLUDED THE ALLEGATIONS WERE UNSUBSTANTIATED. WE ONLY HAVE A MINUTE LEFT. WHAT ARE SOME CONCRETE CHANGES YOU'D LIKE TO SEE IMPLEMENTED IN SKATING MOVING FORWARD?

Asher says OKAY. WELL, FIRST, THEY DIDN'T ACTUALLY HIRE THE THIRD PARTY. THE CLUB DID. THINGS WE'RE WORKING TO DO AND I'M SAYING "WE," BECAUSE WE HAVE STARTED LIKE A COALITION OF SKATERS FROM U.S., CANADA, AND FRANCE AND AROUND THE WORLD AND WE ARE WORKING WITH OTHER ALLIANCES SUCH AS DIVERSIFY ICE WITH JOEL SAVARY AND WE HAVE CALLS OF ACTION WE'RE GOING TO BE SENDING OUT TO SKATE CANADA, THE GOVERNMENT, ON HOW TO MAKE IT BETTER FOR ATHLETES, COACHES, AND VOLUNTEERS OF COLOUR IN THE SPORT. WE'RE HAVING LOTS OF GREAT CONVERSATIONS, AND I THINK THROUGH COVID, WE WOULD NEVER BE ABLE TO THINK ABOUT REACHING OUT TO EACH OTHER. BUT NOW WITH COVID WE'RE HAVING SKYPE MEETINGS, ZOOM MEETINGS, WE HAVE A LOT OF THINGS IN THE WORKS, AND I THINK THAT THE ONUS IS OFTEN PUT ON ATHLETES OF COLOUR BECAUSE WE CAN'T WAIT FOR THEM TO MAKE ANY CHANGES BECAUSE IF THEY DID, THEY WOULD HAVE DONE IT BY NOW. SO WE'RE REALLY WORKING TO, YOU KNOW, COME UP WITH THIS ALLIANCE... IT'S A WORKING NAME BUT FIGURE SKATERS FOR DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION ALLIANCE, AND WE'RE JUST WORKING TOWARDS MAKING IT BETTER FOR PEOPLE COMING AFTER US BECAUSE WE REALIZE THE IMPORTANCE OF ROLE MODELS AND WE REALIZE THE IMPORTANCE OF MAKING THE SPORT SAFER AND INCLUSIVE FOR EVERYBODY AND EVERYONE SHOULD FEEL WELCOME AND ABLE TO ACHIEVE THEIR GOALS NO MATTER WHAT COLOUR THEY ARE.

The caption changes to "Producer: Preeti Bhuyan, @PreetiBhuyan."

Nam says AND YOU HAD MENTIONED IN THE TWEET THAT YOU RECENTLY LOST YOUR GRANDMOTHER. WE ARE SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS, AND WE APPRECIATE YOU TAKING THE TIME OUT TO SPEAK TO US ABOUT SOME OF THE GREAT SOLUTIONS THAT YOU'RE COMING UP WITH. WE APPRECIATE YOU, ASHER, AND CONTINUED SUCCESS.

Asher says THANK YOU.

Watch: Asher Hill: Breaking Barriers on the Ice