On the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd

Written by Lilian Brown, ELBA’s SHIFT25 Campaign

My name is Lilian Brown, I am a Year Here Fellow working on the SHIFT25 campaign. I wanted to share my personal reflections in commemoration of George Floyd’s anniversary. If you are unfamiliar with SHIFT25, this post will provide clarity.

It has been two years since his murder and writing this blog is one of the hardest tasks I have had to do. His last words “I can’t breathe” garnered the attention of the world and became the mantra for racism, oppression, injustice and trauma experienced by Black communities. Disturbingly, we know this is not the first time this phrase captured a worldwide audience as it was also the last words of Eric Garner on the 17.07.14. It is heart wrenching reflecting on these experiences and the ever-increasing long list of names of people that have been afflicted to those atrocities.

For those of us who are still able to breathe we have been held to account to reflect, advocate and action racial justice. Ben Okri (2020) noted “I can’t breathe” goes beyond saying that you are depriving me of freedom, of humanity, of respect. It says: “You are depriving me of the right to air itself.” Has the capacity to breathe now become a resource that only those with power and privilege can dictate who has access to it?

Promisingly, the wake of the murder of George Floyd transcended all the issues and personal characteristics that usually separate us. This was now a humanity issue. Appealing to the humanity within each of us. An opportunity to promote a neighbourly love and consideration as well as introspect of the impact of our actions on others. Carbon footprint is a notorious term to measure the amount of CO2 released into the environment based on the activities of an individual, organisation or community. Yet, how many of us are au fait with the footprint of our biases, assumptions and stereotypes and its impact on others?

The scene and unravelling of George Floyd’s  final moments became a prelude to the societal responses to come. Responses from bystanders, activists, helpers, oppressors, abetters, the powerless and those with power. The movement and momentum following his murder highlighted the roles we would elect. It is a choice to be an active part of change. The hope that arose during such harrowing times was the unity of different communities, ethnic groups and society. Our differences became the bond to champion change. Thinking about our neighbour above our own needs, privilege and comfort emanated. Frank and uncomfortable conversations helped us to turn our attention to the tangible change we could pursue at an individual and macro level. This is how a collaborative approach with SHIFT25 interlinks and builds upon some of the opportunities that were created.

George was survived by five children and wider family. It would be remiss of us not to consider the impact on them within our discussions. As family and creating a fairer future for young people from Black and Asian Ethnic Minority groups is at the heart of SHIFT25 and ELBA’s missions. We are impelled to consider whether George’s family’s hope of societal change is a distant dream or whether it is continually being constructed by a society who cares? His family have tirelessly campaigned despite the pain they experience to promote change and ensure his death is not in vain. George’s brother, Terrence spoke about becoming part of a fraternity of families they would never wished to have been part of – relatives of someone killed by the police. Propelling them into the limelight to be activists campaigning a change against systemic unfair treatment of Black men. An arduous ask even without a lived experience.

The UK’s response to George’s murder has catapulted black employees to the forefront to be the representative of diversity and inclusion within White majority organisations. While Chinwala and Barrow’s (2021) Accelerating Black Inclusion report notes some the perceived benefits of this by Black workers, the report also conveys how mentally draining, physically demanding and risky this responsibility can be. Inevitably leading to burnout or compassion fatigue. One suggestion to remedy this is to value inclusion work, stating “Leaders need to set clear expectations of the White majority to get involved with diversity and inclusion”.

Ian Parkes, Co-Founder of SHIFT25 and ELBA’s CEO, is committed to driving this change as an ally. His writings, 100 Days and One year On mention the personal growth and outrage he experienced as an ally. As well as a desire to engage more people in the debate and pressure for change. Challenging the stigma associated of misspeaking around racial justice leading to tangible change. SHIFT25 can help non-Black senior leaders in demystifying these misconceptions.

As a new stakeholder within SHIFT25, I am in awe of the genuine authenticity of the campaign. Dr Martin Luther King Jr. said it best: “darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”. Using light and love to cultivate a hope within our young people to dismantle the anxieties and burdens generationally passed down due to centuries of injustice and oppression needs to be our first step. It is something we can all do. Referring to the role analogy earlier, ask yourself what role do you want to play in this change? What legacy do you truly want to leave behind?

Through the ELBA family, we continue to champion the voices of our young Black and Asian people. Check out our voices campaign here. We are no longer assuming what our young people need. How can you help? Listen to these raw accounts and offer them the opportunities they need and want. We are calling on Black and Asian Professionals to support and help these young people through affinity to see themselves in marketplace. Whilst creating connections they would not normally be afforded.

Call to Action:

If you are genuinely looking to diversify your teams, help with social mobility and utilise recruitment agencies to assist your work. Then look no further than ELBA’s social enterprise London Works.

SHIFT25 want to challenge you not to focus on standard tick boxes, but as Dr. Jonathan Ashong Lamptey says, “employing inclusion as a systematic business strategy”. True diversity, equity and inclusion practices resolves the challenges of tokenism within your organisations. Your existing and prospective Black and Asian ethnic minority employees need real opportunities.

Please get in touch with SHIFT25 for more support and up to date information on the ways we can help: info@elba-1.org.uk.

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