The Co-founder and Director on the power of protest and the importance of allyship in an era of division.
Kayza Rose, the Co-founder and Director of BlackOutLDN, on the power of protest, the importance of allyship in an era of division, and her hopes for the future of the trailblazing organisation.
Sandra Bland was a 28-year-old black woman found hanged in a Waller County Texas jail. She was pulled over by state trooper Brian Encinia for failing to signal during a lane change. The video footage of her arrest went viral after news broke of her death. The news struck at a time when we were hearing of more and more brutal deaths of black people in America, and was the driving force for the Black Lives Matter movement.
In the UK we’ve had deaths in custody or following police contact, like Joy Gardner who died in 1993 after police bound her face and head with tape. She was unable to breathe which caused her to collapse and suffer brain damage. She was placed on life support but died four days later of cardiac arrest. The death of Mark Duan who was shot by police after a ‘hard stop’. He was later proven to be unarmed. Mark’s death sparked the uprisings in 2011 after people became frustrated due to the lack of justice given to his family. The constant harassment of black and brown youth by the police and the history of institutionalised racism means there has always been (in my lifetime) a very strained relationship between the police and the black community. To be blunt, the police frighten a lot of black youth because of the harassment and abuse these young people often experience... or hear about. My own children have been harassed by the police, which began when they were around ten. This isn’t something people just make up, it’s real and terrifying. It’s because we, as black people, experience injustice just because of our hue globally that it struck home when we heard about the death of Sandra Bland here. When I heard about Sandra and the way she was arrested, it put a fire in me. This death made me talk to other people who were also outraged, angry, upset and exhausted.
I had a conversation with Denise Fox about injustice and about how Sandra Bland had died – this would be the birth of something new and unexpected. I’d known Denise for around six years or so as she dated someone I knew. We’d speak off and on, but never spoke consistently until after this conversation in late July 2015. Denise suested we did a protest in solidarity and that we do this as part of the BlackOutAmerica movement. I checked them out and agreed that this would be a good way to show solidarity and raise awareness. We both agreed that as our protest was in London, we’d have to change the name. BlackOutLDN seemed like a good name for the protest.
Denise and I both planned the protest and organised volunteers and raised a small pot of money through crowdfunding, something neither of us had done before – it was hard! Nothing in my life had prepared either of us for the media attention the protest received. Although we were in this together, I felt a huge amount of pressure as I had to do all the pre-protest interviews and I’m the only black person out of the two of us. To be a good ally, you have to provide a platform for those who are marginalised to speak for themselves, not for you to speak for them. Denise is a good ally. On the day of the protest we tried our best to support each other, but as we both
live with anxiety, it was difficult. I tried to hide most of the day but the inevitable happened – I was expected to speak. We had performances and speeches from local performers and leaders. I spotted quite a few allies from the LGBTQ community too; it was beautiful. People often think that protests are anti-police or anti-law. These protests are about being allowed to live without fear of law enforcement. The protests are about making a stand against the police officers who feel they’re above the law and can take lives just because they wear a uniform. Suddenly, my life had changed; I was being asked to sit on panels; I was being asked my opinion on race related matters. I had all these activists telling me who I should be working with and letting me know the various histories of each organisation. It was at this point that Denise and I agreed that BlackOutLDN should become an organisation. We would highlight issues in the UK and beyond using social media, panels and protests. We went on a few marches and spoke in a few places. Denise and I had a very honest conversation after looking at the direction BlackOutLDN was going in. As we know, allies shouldn’t lead organisations for marginalised groups or speak for them. Although we had founded BlackOutLDN together, it was now beyond a oneoff protest. It was now an organisation with several black volunteers.
I joined BLMUK which is part of the Black Lives Matter network. I did a lot of speaking gigs and panels which I didn’t enjoy at all because of my anxiety. I also joined UK Black Pride as Head of Media Production which was amazing. There I was, doing all this work with all these exceptional activists who were doing really magnificent things. I heard through a friend that some performers working in a West End theatre had put together a fundraiser for Black Lives Matter. I spoke to one of the organisers who invited me to speak at the event. The event moved me to tears; the energy was such that you had to be there to understand. Gabriel Mokake was doing videography and Vanessa Fisher was organising with some of the other volunteers on the day. I didn’t know it then but they’d become codirectors with me at BlackOutLDN.
BlackOutLDN is moving in a different direction in terms of sharing information. With Gabriel and Vanessa both working in theatre and me working in arts and activism in many ways, it was only natural we use the arts to share our message. We will definitely highlight issues of injustice but being black isn’t just about pain and suffering. We will share our achievements, love and joy.