UK's first national black British civil-rights group is launched

Britain’s first national black civil rights group is launched by ex-trustee of Meghan and Harry’s charity and TV historian David Olusoga who backed ‘Colston Four’ in bid to ‘dismantle systemic racism’

  • Black Equity Organisation features ex-Sussex Royal Foundation director Karen Blackett among 12 trustees
  • Also involved is David Olusoga who gave testimony at ‘Colston Four’ trial after siding with BLM protesters
  • Other trustees involved include former Casualty actor Kwame Kwei-Armah and Labour MP David Lammy  
  • Launch of the London-based organisation coincides with the second anniversary of George Floyd’s murder

A group of the UK’s most influential black leaders including a former trustee of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s foundation have launched a new group to advance justice and equality for black people. 

The Black Equity Organisation (BEO) is the UK’s first national and independent civil-rights group and features former Sussex Royal Foundation director Karen Blackett among its 12 trustees.

Ms Blackett is the UK’s top advertising executive as country manager of WPP and was involved with the Sussexes when they set up their own foundation in 2019 after splitting from their joint charity with Prince William and Kate.

Among the other BEO trustees is historian Professor David Olusoga who gave testimony at the ‘Colston Four’ trial after siding with the Black Lives Matter protesters who pulled down the statue to the 17th century slaver in Bristol.

Further trustees of the new organisation are former Casualty actor Kwame Kwei-Armah, who is now the Young Vic’s artistic director, Labour MP David Lammy and Conservatives Against Racism co-funder Siobhan Aarons.

The launch of the London-based group which is registered with the Charity Commission coincides with the second anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, which sparked the Black Lives Matter anti-racism protests globally.

The 12 trustees of the newly-created Black Equity Organisation are (top row, from left) Siobhan Aarons; David Olusoga OBE; David Lammy MP; Yvonne Field; (centre row, from left) Karen Blackett OBE; Kwame Kwei-Armah OBE; Dame Vivian Hunt DBE; Mark Boisson; (bottom row, from left) Athian Akec; Ric Lewis; Michelle Daley and Marcia Willis Stewart QC

Former Sussex Royal Foundation trustee Karen Blackett (left) and historian David Olusoga (right) are both involved in the BEO

Labour MP David Lammy (pictured in Brighton last September) is another of the 12 trustees for the Black Equity Organisation

Another BEO trustee is Kwame Kwei-Armah (left), the Young Vic’s artistic director who was previously in Casualty (right)

A video was released to mark the launch, voiced by Bridgerton actress Adjoa Andoh (above) who also used to be in Casualty

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 said: ‘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.

Who are the 12 trustees helping to launch Black Equity Organisation?

  • Siobhan Aarons: Chair of the UK automotive trade body’s International Trade Working Group, co-founder of Conservatives Against Racism and school governor
  • Athian Akec: Young historian, writer and speaker who was a special advisor to a Parliamentary inquiry into teaching of black history in British schools
  • Karen Blackett OBE: UK’s top advertising executive as country manager of agency WPP and former director of Harry and Meghan’s Sussex Royal Foundation
  • Mark Boisson: Accountant who is finance and resources director for Hackney Council for Voluntary Service, and treasurer of Hackney Foodbank
  • Michelle Daley: Activist on disability justice who has researched the experiences of enslaved African disabled people for the Greater London Authority  
  • Yvonne Field: Chief executive and founder of social enterprise The Ubele Initiative who is a fellow of the Institute for Learning and Royal Society of Arts
  • Dame Vivian Hunt DBE: Senior partner for consulting firm McKinsey & Company and chair of the charity Teach First who is on the British Museum’s board
  • Kwame Kwei-Armah OBE: Former Casualty actor who is now artistic director of the Young Vic theatre and was awarded OBE for services to drama in 2011
  • David Lammy MP: Labour Party politician who has been MP for Tottenham since 2000 and is now shadow foreign secretary under Keir Starmer
  • Ric Lewis: Founding partner of property investment firm Tristan Capital Partners, and founder and chairman of the Black Heart Foundation charity
  • David Olusoga OBE: Bafta-winning TV historian who is a professor at the University of Manchester and presents the BBC’s A House Through Time
  • Marcia Willis Stewart QC (Hon): Managing partner at legal aid practice Birnberg Peirce Solicitors who acted for the family of Jean Charles de Menezes

‘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’.

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 campaign video called Change Is Here was released today 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.

One of two handout stills from a video issued by Black Equity Organisation from their campaign video titled Change Is Here

The other handout still from a video issued by Black Equity Organisation from their campaign video titled Change Is Here

Demonstrators hold signs depicting George Floyd during a protest against racial inequality in New York on June 13, 2020

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.

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