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Letter to Zion
written by Cephas Williams
I know it might seem strange, me writing to you when you are just a baby, but when you are old enough to read this letter, you will know why I had to write it now. Monday, 8th of June 2020 was a huge day for me, perhaps the most important day of my life. We had anticipated your arrival for 2 weeks as your due date was set for the 26th of May. Before your due date I had suspended all my meetings, I had also planned to switch off my phone and disconnect from the world so I could focus 100% of my time on you. Then, something terrible happened. On the 25th of May, In America, a man named George Floyd was needlessly killed by police officers, simply because he was a Black man, a person of African descent. The news travelled to homes around the world, and no one could dismiss it.
People come in all shapes and sizes, and many different colours. It’s a sad fact that in some places, people with skin like yours and mine are not treated the same as others or with the respect they deserve. I know that sounds crazy but it’s true. I knew that for the sake of your future, I had to take a stand. The death of George Floyd caused many good-hearted people in the world to take to the streets in protest and not just Black people like you and me. People of all colours and creeds came together as one and said enough - Black Lives Matter.
Sadly, George was not the first person to die simply for being Black. Millions of Black people have suffered for generations. After all of the work that our ancestors and their allies did to fight for justice and equality for Black people, we shouldn’t still be fighting for the right to be treated fairly in the 21st century. But the sad reality is that as much as there has been progress for Black people in some areas, we are still treated unfairly and we are still dealing with racism, both overt and systemic, on a daily basis at school, at work, by law enforcement and by government policy in general.
Somewhere along the way, the idea that white people are superior to others has taken root in society, like a stubborn weed in a garden. It’s everywhere and people are so used to seeing it, they don't appreciate that it’s choking the goodness out of our world. I wish I could tell you, that you’ve been born into a reality free of negativity, dangerous stereotypes and casual racism that has plagued us for so long, but I can’t. To really change the state of things, I believe we must right these wrongs with the same intensity we used to create them. But in doing this we must be consistent, because consistency is greater than intensity.
Finally, there seems to be a spot of hope. It looks like the tragic moment where the life of George Floyd was taken, sparked a movement that woke up the world. However, it is very important for us here and now to not go back to sleep and to ensure that any change that follows is long lasting for you and your peers of the future.
My concern is that if we stand by and do not take brave & tangible steps forward at this crucial time of awakening, then by the time you are my age, maybe you will be writing a letter like this to your son or daughter. I simply cannot stand by and let that happen. This is not the type of world I want to leave behind for you, so I will do my best to change it. So, as well as becoming a father, I have become a custodian of the future - our future - and I share this responsibility with all of my peers.
I know this must sound strange to you, that all this heartache, division and struggle can come from something as natural as the colour of one's skin. You will meet many people growing up and they will all be different. Naturally, you will be kind to them all, no matter what they look like or where they are from. That is because nobody is born racist, it’s something people learn.
It’s sometimes difficult to have conversations about race here in the UK, because it’s not always obvious. It’s not always just a bully calling you names, sometimes it’s much harder to pin down than that. It’s about missed opportunities and negative judgements which stop Black people from ever feeling equal. Many aspects of racism that Black people experience, go un-noted, or are flatly denied. Sometimes in an effort to silence or avoid the harsh realities of the Black experience, we are crammed together with other ethnic groups and defined by buzzwords and phrases such as BAME, disadvantaged groups, minorities, hard to reach and so on. I believe that in order for us to really make a change we have to give each experience space to breathe and focus on each lived experience individually.
Each initiative toward change should be led by those who the experience belongs to. This would help many of us, not just Black people but our brothers and sisters in other groups too. People who similarly struggle to distinguish themselves amid this clamour of lazy collective representation.
Along my journey, I have come across many people who say that they understand the importance of creating a world with equal opportunity for Black people. They know in their hearts that the world is not a fair place and they want to help, but often I have found they are looking for solutions that make them feel comfortable, as opposed to solutions that bring about meaningful change. The truth is, no one is perfect and even I cannot promise you that I will not make mistakes along my journey. The more I tried to strive for perfection the more I realised ‘perfect’ isn’t real. And so, there is no ‘perfect’, only improvement. You see Zion, There comes a time where we must all hold up a mirror and see things for what they are, this includes those that sit in seats of power, leadership and responsibility using this mirror to evaluate our reality and their systems; the issue is, what is systemic within our culture is not supportive of the change we are trying to make. People must understand that the comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there. Taking into consideration that to improve we must reflect and that the closest thing to perfection is reflection.
Always remember that ‘comfort is the enemy of progress’ and so, more often than not, those ‘comfortable solutions’ do not actually help to progress the Black community. In order for us to truly progress we need to have uncomfortable conversations that create tangible solutions, onboarding people in positions of economic leverage along the way. People who can use their privilege and sense of agency to change the trajectory of your generation and the generations that will follow.
Zion, you have given me the opportunity to see humanity in its purest form at a time of chaos. You have given purpose to my pain, and direction to my destiny. When I welcomed you into this world, I saw innocence; I saw someone who couldn’t take care of themselves, I saw someone who had no appreciation for race, class or religion, no sense of identity, free of the stark reality of what it feels like to be a Black person in the world today. What I saw in you was humanity unrefined. We add the rest; we inform who you become, we inform the world you grow up in and the world we hand over to you once we are gone.
Currently the world is a mess and following recent events there have been a number of knee jerk responses from leaders and organisations, as well as a good number of online resources advising leaders and organisations on what they should say and do during this time, but these knee jerk responses tend to be void of substance, generic and as a result come across as inauthentic. Nothing I have seen so far speaks to the vision or the destiny of the Black community and the wider world.
By the time you are 20, I want to see a world where Black people are treated fairly and afforded the same opportunities as their white counterparts. A world where all nationalities exist side by side, with love and respect for each other’s differences, without fear or suspicion. A world where humanity, in all its marvellous variations and differences, stand together as one tribe. I want to see a world where a Black person can confidently say they want to be the Prime Minister of Great Britain, France, Spain or the leader of any country they are born and raised in for that matter, and for it not to feel unattainable or unlikely. A world where Black people don’t have to work 10 times as hard to succeed in their chosen profession, whilst others are given special dispensation simply because they are not Black. A world where we have adequate Black representation across the boardrooms of all industries. A world where a Black person can be the CEO of a major media conglomerate, film studio or record label, not just the person generating the multibillion-dollar creative output. A world where a Black person can be the manager of a Premier League football club or the CEO of the FA or Premier League itself just as customarily as they are seen on the pitch; and for this to be a reality across all sports around the world. I want to see a world where initiatives and content inspired by the Black experience are led and informed by Black people, I want to see a world where Black history is not just celebrated in a single month but is celebrated in our everyday lives. I want to see a world where the real history of Black people is taught as part of a decolonized curriculum, not a history that starts and ends with slavery. I want to see a world where people are not judged by the preconceived notions attached to their ethnicity but by their integrity; for we have more in common as a people than we have differences. I want to see a world where everyone has access to the benefits of ‘the privilege', a world in which we are not conditioned to hate others but rather expect the best, where kindness is the priority and happiness the goal. A world where Black people aren’t set against each other but rather build each other up with strength and unity creating a better future for you, your children and the generations after them.
I know this seems like a lot to ask, but the truth is, we have a long way to go. We cannot achieve a utopian dream unless we compartmentalise the dark realities we have created, unless we call them out and address them one by one. We cannot skip past a multitude of pain for a moment of peace. The voices of those who have suffered must not be drowned out by apathy, instead they must be amplified for all to hear and understand. We can do it, I believe it when I look at you, humanity unrefined.
I can only hope that by the time you're old enough to appreciate this letter, all the things listed above, and more, will have come true.
As I sit here writing this letter to you, I can imagine a time when you have grown into a young man and we are living in a better world and you ask me, “Dad, was it easy?” I would love to be able to tell you, yes. But the truth is, I will most likely say, “No, son, it was hard. We had to work through many challenges, we had to educate and re-educate ourselves in order to overcome this festered order; but we overcame it because we put the interests of humanity in front of our own, working together for the future you deserve.”
It is with this in mind that I dedicate my next steps to you, my son. I will build an alliance in the UK, an alliance of Black people and our non-Black allies, everyone who is brave enough and forward thinking enough to stand with us, shoulder to shoulder to help create the change we need to see. Offering myself as a conduit that connects enlightened soft power to Black renaissance and hopefully inspire others to join me on this vision. To achieve this I will create an organisation called the Black British Network that can be a custodian for our trajectory, to focus our efforts on making sure that by the time you are 20 years old, you are not fighting the same battles we had to fight but rather enjoying the manifestation of our efforts. To dismantle systemic racism and create an equal playing field for the economic advancement of the Black community in the UK.
With that said, this is me sending you love from the year 2020, in the hope that when you read this letter in however many years to come, you will be able to see the changes we made and know that we made them for you and so that many others like you can live and grow in peace.
This is my letter to you, Zion, my son and our future.
Sent with love and hope,
I, the undersigned, pledge my commitment to this vision. I will give my time and the resources I can to work together with you to develop this vision and to take responsibility for my part in dismantling systemic racism and listening to what is needed to create an equal playing field for the economic advancement of the Black community in the UK. I, alongside other supporters and organisations, will be co-creators of the equitable future that Zion and many other children deserve and must see.
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Imagine if all our major companies and their executives stood together, for the purpose of the Black community in the UK to prioritise the economic advancement of the Black community and the eradication of systemic racism. Imagine if we stopped paying lip service and put our money and our resources where our mouths and hearts seem to be. We need to keep the momentum in isolation of the media being at the tail end of amplifying the George Floyd conversation. So that it does not take for the death of another Black man before we see the true state of the landscape toward Black people again. We need to act now and come together to create seismic change. What if we had an alliance, a network of leaders and leading companies standing shoulder to shoulder with the Black British community, not to say that they are perfect but to stand together with the Black community, to ensure that 20 years from now, the next generation of Black people had a level playing field in the UK.
The following list of executives, leaders and allies have committed their time, resources and organisation to stand with us as we drive targeted change focused on the Black community in the UK. We are looking for allies who are not afraid to have candid conversations that lead to real systemic change to join us on this journey.
All leaders listed have read Cephas Williams letter to his son, Zion and have committed to the BBN's 4 Key Deliverables using their influence and business' to support Cephas' mission and the legacy of the BBN not just for a moment in time, but for the long run.
Strategic Partnership Solutions Ltd
Museum of London
The Co-op Group
Co-founder & Chair
CEO / Co-founder
O2 (Telefonica UK)
UK Chair & Managing Partner UK&I
Artistic Director & Chief Executive
Saatchi & Saatchi
Columbia Thread Needle
Clear Channel UK
Clear Channel Outdoor
Global Vice Chair, Sustainability
Senior Managing Director
Somerset House Trust
President, Marketing Division & Chairman, Cannes Lions
Jude Kelly CBE
The WOW Foundation
Founder & Director
CEO, UK & Europe
The Marketing Society
Global Executive VP Marketing
The B Team
CEO & Chief Change Catalyst
4 Key Deliverables
Other than the list of things detailed below, we have more work we will be doing outside of the scope of our work with companies/corporates. This work will add to our desired mission around economic advancement and eradicating systemic racism. The goal is to align with leaders and organisations who understand our values and are ready to work with us. Leaders who genuinely are interested in supporting the progression of the Black community within their organisations and within the wider society.
Round Table Conversations
For each meeting, we aim to walk away with tangible actions to change our collective thinking, processes, approach and understanding of the Black community. To build a better system we must deconstruct the existing framework and understand where it has failed the Black community, only then can we have a reflective response as opposed to a reactive response; and use the learning we extract from each meeting to build a better framework/eco system within our organisations and society.
Informed by the Round Table Conversation, we will work with each company signed up, their black staff and thought leaders in the Black community to create a document that can be used as a resource for companies to focus and develop efforts on how to better serve the Black community at all levels. We will look at many things including the employee life cycle, the areas that currently fail the Black community and practical steps we need to take to make it better.
Portrait of Black Britain
Cephas Williams has an aim to take a portrait series of Black people from across the various ally companies we have on board, as well as Black people in the community, in a bid to make more Black people visible across the country. The interest is to crystallize and amplify the contributions of Black British people in today's society and for this to serve as a creative method to not only make more Black people visible but give the next generation and the wider society a holistic picture of Black achievements in the UK in the 21st century.
Black British Stories
Video series of Black people in the community + Black employees in ally companies sharing their stories and thoughts on the Black experience, past, present and hopes for the future. This will also be informed by the discussions had at the Round Table Conversations and will serve as a way for us to create a library of stories that can educate people and reinforce information that can support change.