We live in unprecedented times. Nearly 4 months ago a Pandemic of international proportions forced people into their homes as we sought to follow the instructions of the government to ‘Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’. We stood on our doorsteps and applauded the workers of the NHS and others who helped continue to meet the needs of families through delivering food, post packages and collecting our refuse and recycling. We watched and listened as politicians kept us updated on the daily numbers of deaths and infections and we celebrated as the numbers began to fall. We learned what an ‘R’ number was, and how to teach our children at home. We discovered Zoom, MS Teams and FaceTime to stay connected and could tell if someone was standing 2 metres away with just a casual glance.
As a nation we worked together to begin to overcome a virus which was unapologetic in who it targeted and whose lives it destroyed. Old and Young, Male and Female, White, Black or Brown, Christian, Muslim or Atheist… it attacked us all… and through a collective effort, we began to overcome it.
It seems as though Coronavirus isn’t the only battle we’re facing, however. On the 25th May 2020, the death of a black American at the hands of a Minneapolis Police Officer lit a fire under the powder keg of racism across the world. Where previously streets were empty as people stayed home, now they began to fill as people began to fight back against another disease. Mass demonstrations in countries around the world, fuelled by the death of George Floyd. The news programmes and social media were showing looting, rioting and vandalism as well as solidarity, kindness and empathy in equal measure. Each side of the debate strove to put their perspectives across. There were arguments about all lives matter, not just black lives. Statues of historic figures who’d built up their philanthropic coffers through (amongst other things) slavery were torn down or defaced. At its worst anyone who critiqued or had a view counter to the social media masses were derided as being racist or viewing the problem from a position of white privilege. The desire to forget history and view everything through the eyes of the angry or upset, the reactive and frustrated, grew alarmingly as did the response from those who had a supremacist agenda. Those who remained in the middle, risked having their views polarised by the extremes due to the narrative which existed.
So, what is east to west’s understanding of Black Lives Matter and how do we respond? Before we go further, it’s important to understand that Black Lives Matter is two separate things. One is a human rights movement which is ‘fighting for racial and social justice in the UK’. It is a political movement designed to bring influence on the government to change policy and increase opportunities for people of colour. As a charity we are a-political. We don’t’ affiliate ourselves with any political parties or Christian denominations. Our concern is that by aligning with one, we alienate another, so we make a conscious choice to be open to, and work with all. The second part of Black Lives Matter is the public recognition that sadly multi-layered racism exists within our society, and that people have had enough. It’s seen in our sport, where competitors are subjected to monkey chants and verbal abuse based on their skin tone; within our judicial system where black males are disproportionately stopped by the police or arrested/imprisoned. We see it in our education system where statistically fewer black students attend University verses white students with comparable grades.
As we begin to think about east to west’s response to the Black Lives Matters movement, the first thing we need to do is stop. We can choose to be reactive and responsive, or we can wait, think, reflect and then speak (which is why you’re reading this nearly 5 months after the death of George Floyd and not before). Over the months, the trustees and team have been challenged to think about our own responses to the BLM movement. We confess at one point, our reaction was ‘all lives matter, not just black ones’, but the more we listened, the more we came to realise that whilst this may be true, the issues being faced by black lives, didn’t affect all lives. This was a point in our history to stand with our black brothers and sisters in solidarity about what was happening to them, not belittle their experiences by pointing out what was happening in our own little world.
We’ve also come to realise that colour matters. It’s part of identity and ties you into a culture or group in ways that other things can’t. We have friends from churches who are from West Africa and for a while we thought that we should simply view them by their name, not their skin colour. We’ve come to realise that by doing this, we lessen them and in turn, we lessen the benefits we have from their friendship. By ceasing to see their Ghanaian or Nigerian heritage, we cease to learn more about the world we are part of with them.
In our June wePRAY we highlighted the idea that ‘it’s good to talk’, now we’d encourage you to take this one step further and adopt an ideal of ‘it’s good to ask’. The nature of finding out more about people and cultures is to ask questions. By finding out more, we shine a light on what we don’t know and bring wisdom to our ignorance. It’s a given that we need to ask these questions with sensitivity and in a clear open, transparent way – we may not agree or fully understand, but the aim and the point of asking is to better understand someone else’s perspective and feelings. This is especially important as the other side to asking is listening and it’s equally important to people that they feel heard.
It should be noted that one of the biggest arguments within the Black Lives Matters protest is around how we are viewing history through modernist lenses. We’re failing to understand the context that people lived in, or simply, ‘it was acceptable back then’. The truth is that the winners in each generation get to write history from their own privileged perspective… history shows that these winners are more often than not, white.
Our challenge is to ask ourselves: looking back at how we grew up in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and in some cases 00s, what are the influences and learning which has impacted both how we view others and respond to the challenges they present to long-held or learned behaviours? (and then doing the hard work of changing - asking God and reflecting ourselves about how and what we need to change).
We are not always going to get it right, indeed, east to west describes itself as being: ‘committed to being present in the messy realties of young people’s day to day lives, offering hands-on, whole-hearted help for as long as they need it. We’re not perfect and we’re always learning, but we work hard to live out our ethos as a selfless and devoted community where compassion and integrity meet fun – so that in every encounter we can bring hope to the young lives we’re privileged to be a part of.’
But we are committed to learning, to growing and to better understanding the difficulties and challenges those who are within our community, whether as trustees, team, supporters, those being supported or across a wider cohort face, so that we can play as active a part as we can in helping them face, respond and overcome these issues. We know it won’t be easy and we know we’ll make mistakes along the way. We ask for grace where it is needed and educating when we don’t understand. Our commitment continues to be in offering hands-on, whole-hearted help for as long as is needed.
If you’d like to talk to east to west about our response, please feel free to ring us on 01784 438007 or email Ant, our CEO on firstname.lastname@example.org or Sue, our Chair of Trustees on email@example.com,uk
Ant Horton - Chief Executive
Sue Holloway - Chair of Trustees Prayer
Please pray that east to west would have the opportunity to learn and grow in these challenging times.
Pray that we’d seek forgiveness when we get things wrong, and that we’d be humble enough to recognise it when we make mistakes.
Please pray for grace and sensitivity on both sides.
Pray that we would have an opportunity to use our ‘privilege’ for the wider good.
Pray that we would be part of a history, written by more than one victor.
Pray that God would surround us all with peace as we travel these uncertain and challenging times.
Pray that we would see and recognise everyone for who they are, what they bring and the blessings that they can bring to our lives – help us to be open and honest, with a heart that is ready and willing to learn and understand.