It has taken me sometime to be ready to put my thoughts down on paper in respect of the murder of George Floyd and the reverberations that have been felt right around the world, I have been hurting like everyone else.
At a time when we are all dealing with COVID-19, the horrific impact that it is already having on our community, so many of us have lost family and friends to this disease, the restrictions of not being able to visit family, the reality of not being able to be with them when they are taking their last breath is in itself traumatising. The actual confirmation that this disease is disproportionately impacting upon the BME community compounding our pain. Racial inequality continues to harm our health and wellbeing, we have been suffering.
When the video emerged showing George Floyd being pinned down to the floor; handcuffed; knee on the neck; knees on his body; calling for his mother; pleading for his life; hearing his words “I Can’t Breathe” – at that moment, non- of us could breathe. The pain, the inhumanity of the police officers, the casual disregard of another human being, the realisation for all of us to see, that those officers did not see George Floyd as human. Any person with an ounce of decency saw the senseless murder of George Floyd for what it was, murdered for simply being black. The world stopped breathing as the reality of racism, the dehumanisation of black people was laid bare. For the majority of people, seeing him die in front of our eyes would have made them sick to their stomach, for black people they relived their personal and collective trauma of racism, they didn’t just see George Floyd, but every black person who had died at the hands of the police. They relived every negative encounter they had had with the police. They relived every act of racism that they had experienced during their lives, they relived every moment when their child had come home hurt and broken from the racism they had experienced in school, on the bus, in their work place, they relived the talks they have with their children when they walk out the door, the talk about how they have to navigate their daily lives, how to live in two worlds. Every woman heard the cry of George Floyd when he called for his mother, and in that instant there was the realisation that but for the grace of god that it could be my child; it could be a member of my family.
We have lived with racism and discrimination for far too long, our historians have documented it to remind the world. We have lived it. We have for many years been fighting the good fight in standing up to racism, calling it out and demanding change, I stood on the shoulders who came before me, who fought to enable me, a kid from Toxteth to become the Director of Steve Biko Housing Association, every generation opening the door a bit further for the next.
The leaders of this City, public, private and the voluntary sector have been told for years what the issues are and how to fix them. There are enough policy documents, consultation exercises, research reports and reviews to fill every room in the Town Hall. Now is the time to act and to implement change. We have gone beyond asking what the problem is and what do you want to happen. It’s time to act. Taking action to address racism and discrimination is a direct route to the healing process.
What has lifted my spirits in these awful times that we are living through is the way our young people are responding, the way they are coming forward asking the questions, raising the issues, sharing their experiences, demanding change.
Our own staff member Shelique Braithwaite shared her own experiences and thoughts recently on Facebook, the Goddess Project a young black women’s group, have been supporting each other by self-love and debate and discussion, Sumuyya Khadar, artist, CLT Board member and activist has been producing powerful artwork, one of many of our young people, writing and creating powerful thoughtful, inspiring pieces. So many of our young people have been showing up and speaking out, it makes me proud. In times like these I go to my books, I draw strength and healing from the greats, Maya Angelou tells me to Rise, “Out of the huts of history’s shame, I rise, Up from a past that’s rooted in pain, I rise”. Our young people are rising.
I have for a long time tried to uplift our young people, working with and supporting our youth organisations, advocating for change to make their lives better. I have always believed young people are our future, young people will make the change we so badly want to see, we need to support them, to give them the tools, hand over the baton and open the doors.
Our annual young achievers’ awards ceremony has always been designed to give young people rightful recognition of their achievements and to enable them to have a voice, to share their hopes, dreams and concerns, to inspire them on their life’s journey.
Over the next few weeks and months I will be working to open the doors for our young people, to facilitate a discussion with our city leaders, to lift their voices so they can be heard. I ask City Leaders, Chief Executives, Directors, as well as turning the city buildings purple and turning social media pages black, look within your own organisations; how many people of colour do you employ? How many are in senior positions? How many sit around your Board tables? How many are on apprenticeship programmes? How many are experiencing discrimination and it is put in the too difficult to open box. Change starts from the top. It is time to open your doors, pull out the chairs, let their voices be heard. It’s time to employ people that reflect all of us and not just have pictures in brochures. It’s time for racial equality not just in the USA but right here in the UK right here in this great city of Liverpool whose wealth was gained through the trade of stolen black people.
“We have set out on a quest for true humanity, and somewhere on the distant horizon we can see the glittering prize. Let us march forth with courage and determination, drawing strength from our common brotherhood.” In time we shall be in the position to bestow the greatest gift possible—a more human face.” -Steve Biko
It’s our young people’s time. Open the door, pull out a chair, it’s time for change.
Steve Biko Housing Association. 7 June 2020