In June 2020, the falling of the statue of former slave trader Edward Coulston in Bristol became a defining moment of the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK, educating many in Britain about the dark history that still impacts citizens today. Like many who have participated in the global protests against systemic racism and its symbols, Lucia Harry and Sophia Harari of the Bristol-based Creative Youth Network took to the streets to ensure that local government heard their voices and took what they considered to be long overdue action in addressing that history. 

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve been engaged in a worldwide listening exercise to capture the voices of those who are looking to their government leaders to embrace this moment and find a new path forward, leaving systemic inequality as a vestige of the past. Lucia and Sophia write about what this moment – and the Black Lives Matter movement – has meant for them, and how it made them reconsider their experiences of growing up in the UK.

A moment of hope: Lucia’s Story

I’m a multimedia graphic designer. Through graphic design, I am able to communicate in a creative and dynamic way, to amplify my voice and express what really matters to me.

The Black Lives Matter movement has raised a lot of emotions for me. It’s made me reflect on my upbringing, and my experiences as a child and young adult. I have had to re-live painful and uncomfortable memories to understand what was wrong back then, but also to see what changes need to be made to progress and make the world a safer place.

I grew up in a predominantly white town and went to a school where my skin didn’t quite blend in. My earliest memory of feeling different was when I was in primary school and I got called out by my teacher for having “big” and “messy” hair, I was told to never wear it down as it “gets in the way”. I remember feeling that this was unfair, my classmates running around me with their free-flowing hair that falls all over the place and mine scraped back with not a single curl in sight. The struggles unfortunately became worse as I got older and went to secondary school.

I spent my school life trying my hardest to fit in and to do whatever it takes to be seen as white. I remember being told, “we basically see you as white…” It makes me sad that this was said as though it were a compliment.

I admit that I told my mum recently that I wouldn’t give her grandchildren if the world continues being an unsafe place for black people. I have so many fears for the future and I don’t want to raise children in a world where they will struggle and have to constantly prove themselves to get anywhere in life. My mum told me she too had worries of having children of dual heritage, and that she feared we would have a tough time fitting in. I can confirm there have been difficult times and so many parts of my childhood/ young adulthood that I look back in disbelief, but this must change!

On the 7th June, at the Black Lives Matter march in Bristol, I had a breakthrough moment of hope when I witnessed the Edward Colston Statue finally be pulled down. I was covered in goosebumps and completely lost for words, this was a moment I will never forget. I got to be a part of something special that day, I saw the city unite and protest in such a powerful and proud way. I feel stronger than ever, I feel that change is on its way and that is all I can really hold on to right now.

It’s important to remember that you aren’t born a racist, you are taught racism and you are born into a world where racism is not just an individual problem but a systemic problem.

I want to see changes in schools, I’m devasted that I grew up not learning about black history and black culture. It was normalised for me to disassociate from my blackness.

 The last few months have been a rollercoaster of emotions and sometimes it’s hard to face that. But I currently feel hopeful and determined for a future where we are ALL EQUAL.

Growth/Pain: Sophia’s Story

I am a writer and musician creating content surrounding identity and self-expression. By doing so I engage in dialogues surrounding perspective, lineage and the marginalised experience.

I have written a short story-poem exploring my first active engagement with the Black Lives Matter Movement in 2020. As a young person of Afrikan* heritage, racism is something that I have to negotiate daily. Although there is no choice in this, I have a choice in how I engage in dialogues of race. This process is painful and exhausting; however, I have come to realise that discomfort is necessary in the path to progression. 

This story is to give insight into how I learned of and my response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah McClain and many more:

My housemate walked into the living room; I was sat at the table with my work laptop before me. My fingers leisurely strolling through Instagram on the cracked black screen below me, he asked me if I had seen it. 

I knew what he was talking about, the viral video. Black death. I scrolled past with speed my fingers reserved for trauma. I was not yet ready to engage in a digital dialogue about oppression.

My housemate took a seat, with his body slumped, he looked at me, Reddened eyes searching for affirmation. He was heartbroken. I knew it was time to act. Instead of scrolling past resources I read, opening tab after tab of context. 

 

The two weeks that followed were some of the most emotionally intense. I would awake from fever dreams in a cold sweat, blinking away memories of school children hurling words they learned from parents; stares and whispers as my big beautiful brown family walked through Bramhall village. I would awake from these pale nightmares and instantly latch on to my phone, being fed by a constant stream of suffering outside of my own. 

My anger was fuelled by resources that never went dry. 

Working from home meant I had more time to delve into the deepest darkest facets of apps and links and articles. Frantically scratching at an open wound before the scab could form. I did not give myself space to heal. 

A vivid memory stands out amongst the murky ashes of Spring’s transition to Summer. 

I was sat at my usual spot at our dining room table with my Leveno work laptop in front of me, my headset strapped to my head, waiting for someone to ring. To have someone to guide or advise.

 

I used my time between calls to submerge myself beneath the currant

gasping for air below the heavy waves

looking for reality in a space dedicated to performativity

searching for content to keep my fire burning

reminding myself of the state of the world

I began to cry; the day began like every day with a dull ache which grew until I couldn’t hold it any longer. Stray, beautiful, gentle tears became aggressive, burning, powerful sobs.

My lips trembled

My hands shook

The speed of my chest’s rise and fall accelerated

Gasping for air I could barely breath

Gazing out the window to my left I allowed my feelings to escape me, they needed to, as my body was not big enough to hold them.

Then my headset rang. The intrusive ringtone penetrating my mind. I had 3 seconds of recollection.

‘good morning, business review centre, sophia speaking’.

*Afrikan in reference to my heritage on the continent of Afrika, as opposed to the Germanic language of the Dutch colonisers of South Africa.