FERGUSON, Mo. -- Darryl T. Jones II toured the NHL Black Hockey History Tour mobile museum Friday at the Boys & Girls Club's Teen Center of Excellence and wanted more.
"This is amazing," said Jones, director of community engagement and partnerships for the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis. "I would love for it to come back for our Urban Expo. And to have it here in Ferguson -- amazing."
More than 110 St. Louis civic and elected leaders gathered at the center to tour the museum and to watch a screening of "Willie," the documentary that chronicles the life of Willie O'Ree, the NHL's first black player.
After the screening, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and St. Louis Blues chairman Tom Stillman spoke about the growth of diversity and inclusion in the League and the Blues fan base after winning the Stanley Cup last season.
"I was pleasantly surprised about the outpouring at the parade," Stillman said of the diverse crowd at the Blues victory celebration. "It was a positive sign that we're making progress in that area. We'd like to bring the community fully into our orbit and organization and become part of our Blues members."
Commissioner Bettman said bringing the museum and "Willie" to Ferguson, a community recovering from racial unrest and protests, helps show young people life's possibilities through the prism of hockey.
"Willie is an incredible person whose overcome amazing obstacles to accomplish what he has ... He's given young people hope, given them dreams they probably never had before," he said. "And when you come to a place like Ferguson, which has had its difficulties and challenges, giving young people here an opportunity to look forward to other things in life, I hope, is a message that resonates."
The museum features an entire wall dedicated to achievements in black hockey history, from O'Ree's NHL debut to former Blues goalie Grant Fuhr becoming the first black person inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Fuhr's jersey along with those of black former Blues players Jamal Mayers and Ryan Reeves, who now plays for the Vegas Golden Knights, are on display in replica lockers inside the museum during its visit to St. Louis for the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend.
The mobile museum, a partnership between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association, is on a tour of 14 NHL cities to help commemorate Black History Month.
"I think it's a great educational piece that the NHL is able to use," Mayers said. "You can only become what you see, so I think it's important that kids of color see players that came before them.
"It's important for the community to be embraced, and it's important for kids of color to feel a part of it," said Mayers, who played for the Blues from 1996-97 to 2007-08. "I think the recent success of the Blues as well lends itself to everyone wanting to feel a part of it. I think it's incumbent on the Blues to take the opportunity and run with it."
Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., said the O'Ree documentary delivers a good message to young people and communities about persevering and excelling through hard times.
"I think his greatest accomplishment was the personal courage and total dignity that he maintained every day," Clay said. "That's why today's film is so important. Willie O'Ree is a true hero, not just because of what he achieved on the ice but because of the kind of man he is."
O'Ree made history on Jan. 18, 1958, when he made his NHL debut with the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens at the Forum. He played 45 games during two seasons (1957-58, 1960-61), all with the Bruins, and enjoyed a lengthy and prolific minor league career despite being blind in his right eye, the result of a hockey injury. O'Ree was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in November 2018 largely for his accomplishments off the ice, including his work across North America as the NHL's Diversity Ambassador.
During two decades in that role, he's helped establish 39 grass-roots hockey programs and inspired more than 120,000 boys and girls to play hockey.