UK’s first national Black civil rights organisation launched by cross-section of influential figures

The Black Equity Organisation ‘will be a symbol of struggle and hope for Black people’  (Getty Images)
The Black Equity Organisation ‘will be a symbol of struggle and hope for Black people’ (Getty Images)

The UK’s first national civil rights organisation established to advance justice and equity for Black people has been launched.

The Black Equity Organisation (BEO) was founded by some of the country’s most influential Black figures from the worlds of business, law, arts and social justice including shadow foreign secretary David Lammy MP, academic David Olusoga, chief executive Karen Blackett, business leader Dame Vivian Hunt and artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah.

It is hoped that this organisation would have the same level of scale as the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) in the United States, founded in 1909 by Black progressives.

Mr Lammy, who once practised as a barrister, told The Independent “we need a national civil rights organisation dedicated to the struggle in good times and bad”.

“As a young Black man, growing up in the 70s and 80s was hard. I experienced everyday racism at school, from the police and on TV. I witnessed the growth of the National Front first-hand. Despite the despair, I hoped that the future could only get better for Black people in Britain. But after the Windrush scandal, the Grenfell fire and other endless tragedies, it became clear that progress was too slow,” the Tottenham MP said.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy was one of the organisation’s founders (PA Wire)
Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy was one of the organisation’s founders (PA Wire)

“After the death of George Floyd, Black and white people came together to show their frustration at the UK’s shortcomings in tackling racism. It is now time to move from protest to action.

“I am proud to be a part of an organisation that will be at the forefront of the fight for racial justice and equality. The Black Equity Organisation will be a symbol of struggle and hope for Black people and their allies across this country as we take this next step in the fight against racial inequality.”

The BEO already has the support of some of leading companies including Sky and several of the country’s foremost law firms.

This comes a year after the government-backed Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED) published a widely-condemned report which suggested that institutional racism doesn’t exist in the UK.

By a clear contrast, BEO has been launched on the premise that systemic racism not only exists but plagues millions of people across Britain.

Systemic racism, the legacy of historic policies and attitudes means that 50 per cent of Black children live in poverty, Black mothers are four times more likely to die in childbirth and at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Black people were four times more likely to die from Covid than white people.

Launched around the second anniversary of George Floyd’s murder and the global wave of anti-racist protests which ensued, the BEO will focus on key areas where Black people face greatest inequity including economics, education, politics, criminal justice, healthcare and housing.

BEO was founded on the back of anti-racist protests in 2020 (Getty Images)
BEO was founded on the back of anti-racist protests in 2020 (Getty Images)

Over time, the BEO plans to work with and complement the work grassroots, community and other charity organisations who have been tackling these issues for decades to “bring about change”.

It will use all the tools available to ensure that there is equity for Black people including litigation where appropriate to challenge systemic racism through the courts with appointed staff members such as a “director of Justice”, charged with helping Black people access legal advice and representation.

BEO’s chair of Trustees Dame Vivian Hunt said: “We are proud to launch the Black Equity Organisation, the UK’s first national Black British civil rights organisation.

“We are committed to addressing the full range of systemic challenges facing the Black British population and will help both Black and all Britons reach their full potential.

“We respect and stand on the shoulders of the many grassroots organisations across the country. We will convene and work in partnership with grassroots, national and ally organisations to deliver real change.”

Dame Vivian Hunt said she was ‘proud to launch’ the BEO (McKinsey & Company)
Dame Vivian Hunt said she was ‘proud to launch’ the BEO (McKinsey & Company)

BEO board members anticipate that there will be challenges ahead, however board member Kwame Kwei-Armah told The Independent that the fact that the organisation has been launched is, in itself, indicative that “the tide is turning”.

“This is a  generational moment and history will note those who stood up and acted to dismantle systemic racism, and we will be working with community organisations, activists and those outside the community to make it happen,” the Young Vic’s artistic director said.

“Second, history has shown that those in power are often behind the curve when it comes to social change. Black equity is no different.  I’m not worried. The very fact that we are here is evidence that the tide is turning.

“In terms of other challenges, we know that change happens when we work together, rather than focus on those who in the current social climate, like to divide and spread fear. BEO knows when we make ground, there is benefit for everyone. So we will work in partnership with others for common goals, including working with government where possible to address issues affecting Black communities. We know we are stronger when we act together.”

In addition to those named above, BEO’s Board of Trustees also includes business leader Ric Lewis, social justice lawyer Marcia Willis Stewart QC, disability campaigner Michelle Daley, social entrepreneur Yvonne Field and co-founder of Conservatives Against Racism for Equality Siobhan Aarons. Its youngest trustee is 19-year-old former youth MP Athian Akec.