Eight minutes and 46 seconds.
It is a long time to sit in silence. But it is an interval for which this extraordinary year may be remembered just as much as the Covid crisis.
Before I opened the Black History Month exhibition in Crawley Museum in October, I was invited by my hosts from Diverse Crawley to join them in sitting in silence to reflect on the death of George Floyd in May this year and to consider the question which, for many, is just as important as defining the correct response to the pandemic: how do we ensure that our county is open and fair to all regardless of race or colour?
In West Sussex, this is now a mainstream topic of discussion and debate. Indeed, during November, I have attended five online events designed to raise the profile of our black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities and the challenges they continue to face.
One was an excellent debate hosted by the Youth Cabinet of West Sussex County Council, at which the problems and solutions to racism in our communities and schools were brilliantly and constructively aired.
Sussex Community Foundation’s online annual meeting was devoted to the social and health issues facing BAME communities across Sussex, whereas the Inter-Faith Network celebrated the music, dance, wisdom and prayers of many different faiths.
At the annual meeting of Mid Sussex Voluntary Action, one of the groups that was profiled was the Mid Sussex Islamic Centre and Masjid, which was fully involved in the Mid Sussex communities’ support of the vulnerable during lockdown. And, most recently, I attended the annual meeting of Diverse Crawley, an organisation which aims to ‘celebrate the colours of Crawley’.
Marilyn Le Feuvre, Diverse Crawley’s new chairman, discussed with me the impact of their work since it began in 2017, and there is a great deal to celebrate.
With representatives from 12 different nationalities on their committee, each of their events brings together almost every expression of human creativity: music, dance, poetry, art and cooking.
But while the inspirational work of Diverse Crawley draws us together, it is also not afraid to highlight what is still pulling us apart.
The reality of racism in West Sussex still exerts a great burden on the BAME population. Marilyn, who is Zimbabwean by birth, and even her grandson, have experienced racist behaviour first-hand and, as she says, ‘you never forget it’.
In their annual Black History Month exhibition at Crawley Museum, Marilyn and her friends chose to contrast the blessing of diversity with the blight of racism within the context of British History.
Through the 1619 and Windrush Scandal exhibits, they explored the origins of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the discrimination of those who emigrated from the Caribbean to support the British post-war economy.
Furthermore, the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement was movingly explored through poetry. But the exhibition also demonstrated the crucial work of Crawley Borough Council, Crawley Town Football Club and Sussex Police to promote a pro-diversity approach.
The burst of energy in West Sussex for multicultural conversation and partnership is giving Marilyn real grounds for encouragement and hope, but she is not going to stop using all her influence to challenge and promote change.
As a wise voice has said, ‘we are all different, but we share a common humanity’. In West Sussex, the efforts of Diverse Crawley, and many others of every age, are building on what we share and, as High Sheriff, I am hopeful we can all support them.
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