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The UK’s first ever Black civil rights group is here

The Black Equity Organisation is spearheaded by some of the most influential Black people in the country

This week marks two years since the tragic killing of George Floyd at the hands of a US police officer.

In the wake of the murder, the world erupted in protest. Notably, in the UK, the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was thrown into Bristol harbour.

Floyd’s brutal murder was also the catalyst for the foundation of the Black Equity Organisation. In July 2020, Labour MP David Lammy convened with Dame Vivian Hunt, a senior partner at McKinsey, to discuss forming a national organisation to provide evidence of the state of black Britain and come up with solutions for these issues.

This week, the BEO, borne from these conversations two years ago, launched in the UK. The organisation is the first-ever national Black British civil rights group, and seeks to advance equity for Black people in Britain. It’s spearheaded by some of the country’s most prominent Black figures, including David Olusoga, Kwame Kwei-Armah, and Karen Blackett OBE.

Here, Blackett speaks to Dazed about the organisation’s inception, its aims, and how anyone can get involved.

Why did you decide to form this organisation now?

Karen Blackett OBE: A few of us came together weeks after the murder of George Floyd two years ago. We’d all had enough. We all had to explain what had happened to our children, who are all of different ages. There have been amazing efforts by lots of different organisations, but the pace of change is glacial.

We’ve spent the last two years making sure that we had the data, making sure that we had the evidence, starting to recruit a small team, starting to look at partnerships and programmes. We launched when we were ready and had all of the data and evidence lined up to demonstrate why it was needed. But the catalyst was the murder of George Floyd.

Am I right in thinking this is the UK’s first civil rights group?

Karen Blackett OBE: It is. There are a number of amazing organisations which work at a grassroots level and a number of organisations that work in particular areas, but this is the first organisation which really looks at national representation.

Independence is also really important for us as well, so that we can work with the government, but also have the ability to challenge any policies that we believe don’t benefit and enhance the Black community.

Why do you think it’s taken so long for a Black civil rights organisation to be formed in the UK?

Karen Blackett OBE: I think in the UK, we’ve looked at core areas but not joined it up. We’ve done amazing work in different areas: we’ve got organisations that focus on Black maternal health, we’ve got organisations that focus on Black domestic violence, we’ve got organisations that focus on voting for our Black community, but it’s not joined up.

We’ve spoken to the NAACP in the US. We’ve spoken to organisations like Stonewall. We’ve spoken to organisations like Liberty. What we’re trying to do at BEO is be that convener to make sure that we can connect grassroots communities and organisations to corporates and policymakers, so that we get that scale and pace of change.

“There are a number of amazing organisations which work at a grassroots level and a number of organisations that work in particular areas, but this is the first organisation which really looks at national representation” – Karen Blackett OBE

Why did you decide to get involved with the organisation?

Karen Blackett OBE: When the murder of George Floyd happened, we were in lockdown, and I was homeschooling my 10-year-old son. He kept asking, “but why did it happen? Why didn’t they remove their knee from his neck? Why, after nine minutes, why didn’t they do it?” I wouldn’t let him watch the videos, but obviously he was aware of all the headlines on the news. I found myself reflecting on what the UK was like when I was 10. Of course we have moved forward, but not much.

For me, it was about making sure that my son doesn’t have to explain to his 10 year old when he’s a parent why another George Floyd has happened. For me, it’s about making that generational shift to really try and make things better for him. I can’t have him going through this. I can’t have him having people judge him for the colour of his skin, not the content of his character. I can’t.

What are some of your aims?

Karen Blackett OBE: Very simply, we’ve been set up to look at providing equity of opportunity for the Black community. We are data- and evidence-based, and the facts speak for themselves. We’ve looked at and identified six core areas where we see a gap between Black people and the rest of society in the UK and where that gap is widening: economic empowerment, cultural awareness, education, criminal justice, the built environment and housing, and health.

How do you hope to achieve these goals?

Karen Blackett OBE: So, we can’t do it on our own. We need allies to work with us. We’re looking at partnerships and programmes, and it’s through these that will do work for the Black community to make sure that there’s that opportunity available to them, but also working with other organisations to connect. This isn’t just a London-based thing, this is a national, UK mission and goal, making sure that we can have an input in terms of policy and challenge with facts and evidence. We are very systematic in our approach.

How can ordinary people get involved?

Karen Blackett OBE: Part of what we’ve asked people to do is go on to our website, sign up to our manifesto which is on there, and be the voice to help us create the right programmes and the right partnerships. People can also donate, no matter how little or how much, so that we can actually deliver the work.

What we will consistently be doing – and we have done in the last few years – is go out and speak to the Black community to find out what they feel. This will be something that we do on a regular basis because we have to crowdsource the answers – we don’t know all the answers. 

My plea is just get on board. We really need allies to create that generational shift, or else we’re still going to be talking about this in the next ten years. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough. I just really want to see the change happen.