Our Response to the Death of George Floyd
18 June 2020
A statement from the BME Staff Network at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
It has taken us a while as a network to put a statement out in response to George Floyd’s death and the subsequent global response, most notably in America, Australia, New Zealand and here in the UK.
Our initial reaction was one of complete numbness and hopelessness. We have just been immersed into the impact of COVID-19 on the BME Community and then this, “I can’t breathe”, these were George Floyd’s last words. Words that resonate with many BME people around the world. We can’t breathe for we feel suffocated by a history we did not create. We can’t breathe, for dreams that leave this world unfulfilled are numerous. Potential squashed by systems that seem designed to keep us out of the fold.
The urge for an urgent response as a BME Staff Network was compelling. But the news unfolding by the second on our screens was mentally, physically and emotionally draining. Finding words to articulate the strength of feeling was hard. As a result, we took a step back to process and make sense of what was happening before our eyes.
As sad as COVID-19 is and as stomach churning George Floyd’s death is, we are filled with hope that a light has been brightly shone on the inequalities and challenges BME people go through every day. We are encouraged that conversations are happening to address and close the disparity that currently exist between the races. We know this is an ambition that is not going to be achieved overnight. Race inequality is not only centuries old but also complex. It is rooted in practices such as slavery, apartheid and colonialism. Black people have ever since been mobilising to try and regain their freedom. Most noteworthy of these is the Civil Rights movement led by Dr Martin Luther King Jr whose dream was that one day his four little children will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. Almost 60 years on, this remains the dream of many if not all BME parents today. Unravelling the issues and carving a way forward to see the transformation we need is going to require strong leadership from those who hold the power and a change of mindset from all of us.
We are pleased that our Chief Executive Julian Hartley has shown that strong leadership highlighted in his statement in Start the Week last week. You can read this at the bottom of this page. The BME Staff Network is committed to working with the Trust to make LTHT the best place to work for all people regardless of race. We sincerely hope this is a springboard to transform our organisational culture to one where everyone feels needed and known, where they feel they belong and can thrive based on their aspiration and ability, not by the colour of their skin and heritage.
For our non-BME colleagues, we are aware the events of the past few weeks have not been easy to take in and digest. You might be feeling a sense of guilt, questioning yourself whether you have unconsciously contributed to the negative experiences of your BME colleagues. You might be questioning yourself why you have not noticed this before. You might be feeling a sense of responsibility to do something to change the course of history but wondering what exactly you can do or say. You might be digging deeper into the many resources out there to gain some understanding of the issues being expressed by protesters in our capital cities and thousands of tweets and webinars. Or you might be in doubt or shock because of what you are hearing, seeing and reading. We can only imagine what you must be going through deep inside.
We want to encourage you to have a conversation with your BME colleagues. This is because we believe no amount of learning in this subject will compare with the learning one can get from a conversation with someone with a lived experience. It is even better if that someone is your colleague. We are confident that the more you hear of the BME experience the more it will provide you with a strong basis for empathy and connection, a turning point where we can all talk about race inequality without fear of repercussions. This can only be a good thing for us as colleagues, our patients and the Trust as a whole.
We know that at the basic level we are all loving and caring people, we want the best for each other, but sometimes our own fears get on the way, blocking opportunities to build supportive relationships with our colleagues. Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said but will never forget how you made them feel”. Let’s make a commitment to ourselves and each other to step out of our comfort zone and demonstrate the Leeds Way Values and Behaviours to each other.
We have provided some links below that might act as great conversation starters.
- NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard - https://www.england.nhs.uk/about/equality/equality-hub/equality-standard/
- Snowy White Peaks by Roger Kline - https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/edc7-0514.pdf
- White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Dr Robin DiAngelo - https://www.amazon.co.uk/White-Fragility-People-About-Racism-ebook/dp/
- Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Longer-Talking-White-People-About/dp/1408870584
In addition, we are hoping to gather a collection of personal stories (real or fictional) and spoken word to mark this moment #BlackLivesMatter. We will bind these into a book as a legacy for George Floyd and the BME agenda and a great resource to learn from. This is open to all LTHT staff as we know this has affected all of us in different ways.
For more information on this and/or to join the network contact us on: Leedsth-tr.BME@nhs.net
An excerpt from Start the Week, the blog of Chief Executive Julian Hartley
I couldn’t write this week’s Start the Week without mentioning the horrific events that have happened in America with the death of George Floyd. There is no place for racism and discrimination in the world and there is certainly no place for it in the NHS and within LTHT. Despite this, our BME colleagues experience racism in different forms on a day-to-day basis and this is something we all must work together to stop.
In the Trust we are fortunate to have a proactive BME Staff Network. Earlier in the year the Executive Team were pleased to support a proactive plan presented by the Network to improve the experiences of BME colleagues at work and support their career aspirations. But we know there is still a lot to do.
Last week I spoke to Ester Jamera, Sister in Oncology Outpatients and Co-Chair of the BME Staff Network to help me understand how we can support our BME colleagues at this time. Ester highlighted how important it is to talk openly about these issues and for everyone to really understand the experiences our BME colleagues and the challenges they face.
It is so important to be aware of and certainly not deny the struggles of our BME colleagues. It is vital that we listen to and acknowledge these experiences and commit to work together to make the necessary changes we need to make individually and as a collective to achieve race equality.
I would encourage you to talk to your BME colleagues. Ask them about their everyday experiences and the impact of George Floyd’s death on them. If we are to make genuine, lasting changes we must all stand and work together to make this happen because #BlackLivesMatter.
The BME Staff Network is open all LTHT staff. For further information and to get involved email: leedsth-tr.BME@nhs.net If you are interested in Equality and Diversity Training, including Race Equality Training, for you or your team, the Equality and Diversity Team are currently exploring how we can safely start up training again. Please send an email to: leedsth-tr.Diversity@nhs.net