I woke up one morning on the 25th May 2020 to the news that a 46-year-old African American man, was murdered in Minneapolis, Minnesota. George Floyd’s neck was knelt on for eight minutes and 46 seconds. I was unable to bring myself to watch the mobile video witnessed across the world, of a man crying for help whilst being suffocated by a police officer, who was subsequently charged with second-degree murder.
I was shocked, horrified, angry but above all saddened.
Floyd’s death caused people in their tens of thousands, in countries across the world, to stand up and take to the streets. The black lives matter movement which had started years earlier was reignited, I hoped along with thousands of others that this time the light would not be dampened.
Understandably this ruthless killing and the unrest and upset that followed, had an impact on people all over the world, including our own colleagues at Notting Hill Genesis, who told us that they would no longer stand for inequality and racism. They wanted our help to make Notting Hill Genesis an organisation where everybody felt they belonged, and everybody had the same opportunities.
Two weeks after the murder I found myself in a virtual room (using newfound video technology) with colleagues who came together with our leadership and broadcast their thoughts and feelings in a heartfelt and honest discussion to the entire organisation. People asked questions like “why is our leadership predominantly white”, “do we really care about our black staff”, “why are we still having this conversation”, “I don’t believe we will ever change things here”, “I am tired of fighting for fairness”.
We met as a leadership team to work out what we needed to do; I knew we could not be passive, for too long the burden of tackling racism sat with those who had been subjected to it. We needed to hear and support our people. We met, we talked, we listened. We met, we talked, we listened. It became clear that everybody should have the opportunity to be heard and to listen. Everybody in the organisation should meet, talk and listen – the big conversation was born.
Over the following weeks hundreds of our people met to talk about how they felt about race, racism, inequality and diversity. There were furrowed brows, raised voices, sad faces, tears and lots of silence. The conversation, although often uncomfortable, was breaking new ground. From the sadness and anger I could start to see a phoenix emerging, a chink of light a new opportunity to change Notting Hill Genesis forever.
On the 23rd October 2020 we will hold our first staff conference focused solely on inclusion, racism, diversity and belonging. Nearly 2000 staff will come together, during black history month, to hear from inspirational speakers, to share experiences, to celebrate diversity and to begin to piece together a new and inclusive Notting Hill Genesis – where everybody has the same opportunities and where everybody feels like they belong and can make a difference.
This is of course a mere stepping stone on the beginning of our journey, but we have to start somewhere and I plan to work as hard as I can to make real and lasting change.