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A group of the UK’s most influential black leaders have launched the Black Equity Organisation (BEO) to advance justice and equality for black people in Britain.
The organisation is the UK’s first national and independent civil-rights group and its launch coincides with the second anniversary of the murder in the US of George Floyd, which sparked the Black Lives Matter anti-racism protests across the world.
Chairman of the trustees, Dame Vivian Hunt, said given the cost-of-living crisis it is “more urgent than ever we have a voice for black Britons”.
She told the PA news agency: “The George Floyd anniversary is significant because it really was a tragic event that resulted in a real global response.
“Technology meant that we all saw the videos and the injustice in real time and the reaction that you saw across the streets of Britain and all around the world was a very human reaction to human rights violations, and particular recognition that we simply haven’t done enough around black people’s lived experience.
“I was really struck that the protests, response and empathy in the UK were not only black Britons.
“There were people from all walks of life, huge amounts of young people, and a real response at a human level to the injustices that black Britons continue to face.
“For me, that moment two years ago was a real awakening of how deeply engaged every household is around fairness and equality of opportunity.
“Everybody wants the same things for their children, black families in Britain are not any different than any other family – they want good schools, access to health care, housing support when they need it and access to justice if they feel they’ve been treated unfairly or have a case.
“It reminded me of how universal the need is to reduce racism and really attack systemic racism.”
In July 2020, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy chaired a call with Dame Vivian and a host of the UK’s most influential black leaders to lament the “lack of a national unified voice” to respond to injustices and “tear down institutionally racist systems”.
Historian and presenter Professor David Olusoga, WPP country manager Karen Blackett, and artistic director of the Young Vic theatre Kwame Kwei-Armah, are all founding members of the charity.
Dame Vivian said: “We decided to launch an independent national black civil rights organisation to dismantle patterns of systemic racism in Britain and really drive generational change, so that the lived experience of black Britons and all Britons improves.”
A powerful campaign video called Change Is Here was released on Tuesday to mark the launch, voiced by Bridgerton actress Adjoa Andoh.
It includes images taken by photographer Misan Harriman, the first black man to shoot a cover of British Vogue.
Dame Vivian said BEO will be working in collaboration with grassroot groups who have the “experience” to address the issues, but not the scale.
She said: “These issues are not new. However, we lacked national scale of impact in addressing them, which is why they still exist.
“Particularly now as we go into the biggest living crisis that we will probably face in our generation, many black families who on average are more exposed to all disruptions in jobs and fragile work, disruptions because of health and Covid, disruptions because of low-quality rent, housing fragility, never mind the fragility in education.
“It is more urgent than ever that we have a voice for black Britons.”
As well as aiming to improve health, education, housing and representation across society, Dame Vivian said BEO will work on access to justice and economic empowerment.
The financially independent organisation began by raising funds from black British philanthropists so that their “founding story is rooted in black British philanthropy – the black community helping itself”.
Dame Vivian said: “We remain independent of governments so that we can challenge and help the government of the day work on issues of access for black Britons and you can’t do that if you’re not financially independent – so that we can do the work without fear or favour.”
She added that although there has been change over the last 10 years, “we need to see more progress”.
Dame Vivian also said it is encouraging to see “so much excellence” in the black British community, like Formula One star Sir Lewis Hamilton, Brit-award winning musician Dave and make-up artist Dame Pat McGrath.