On Sunday June 21, 2020, in Hyde Park Leeds over 5,000 people came out in solidarity for a Black Lives Matter protest. With social distancing measures in place people came together with their banners and posters in hands, shouting “Black Lives Matter!” The gathering included guest speakers and cultural performers who used their voices to touch the crowd and express their deep concerns about the events happening in the Black community both in the UK and worldwide; historically and currently.
These protests were sparked after witnessing the death of George Floyd, who died on May 25. Former police officer Derrick Chauvin pressed his knee onto the neck of George Floyd for 8 minutes and 46seconds. George repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe,” and as he realized he was dying, he called for his mother. The people who witnessed his death repeatedly yelled to the other officers “He cannot breathe!”
One of the guest speakers included Marvina Newton, co-founder of Black Lives Matter in Leeds. This awareness ignited and bridged the struggles faced by the Black community in Britain; similar to the 2011 London riots, racism and police brutality. “When it comes to Leeds I have a duty to our community to gather and collect the voices and to amplify the amazing Black excellence we have in the city and use that as a stepping stone to challenge racism,” Newton commented. “We need it to build stuff on the back of our allies because racism was not created by us. It needs our white community to fix that problem, the Black community already can see the support that it’s getting. What we need to do is do a lot of work to unite our community.”
We further discussed why she felt that Black Lives Matter is important to the people in Leeds. “Black unity matters, Black leaders matter and that’s what we need to do: we have leaders in every Black person in the city and we need to start showcasing all the leaders because we can’t just assume that it’s one or two when we know that there are many of us. This is what today is about. It’s having some old faces but also having some new faces because they are coming up strong.”
I also had an opportunity to speak with renowned poet, speaker, writer and activist Khadijah Ibrahim. She shared her thoughts about the Black Lives Matter movement and how it compared to the fight for equality that she witnessed as a child growing up. “To be honest, for me as much as it’s a very welcomed movement and it’s a revolutionary movement in this time, I have been a part of activism for a long time––my writing is about ACTIVISM. It’s about change, it’s about observing the time, talking about what’s happening in the present time as well as looking back. The Black Lives Matter campaign, that movement for me is a very welcomed movement and I also have to remind myself and maybe remind people who are younger than me that this campaign and regards to it having hashtags is the same as the other campaigns that we’ve had and have been campaigning for a long time. So when my grandparents arrived here their hashtag––if there was a thing as a hashtag back then in the late ’50s/’60s––it would have been ‘Come what may we’re here to stay!’ so these were the slogans that they would say. They would say ‘Without us there is no Britain.’ These were the hashtags of that time. so I feel like the chances are different but it’s the same ’cause at the heart of the matter it’s the same movement for equality and eradicating racism. We’re addressing the inequalities of policies that exist and have existed for so many years and also addressing the institutional racism.” As the poet talked about the difficulties she faced in her time growing up, I recalled a discussion that I had with a 12-year-old boy who stated that, “Going to the protest made him think about the racism that he has dealt with and will have to deal with as he grows older.”
For the first time in U.S history, there were Black Lives Matter protests taking place all across the world. The struggle for justice, equity and equality continues.