The Co-founder and Di­rec­tor on the power of protest and the im­por­tance of ally­ship in an era of di­vi­sion.

Gay Times Magazine - - CONTENTS - Images cour­tesy of Dee Matthews & BlackOutLDN Words Kayza Rose

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 Du‹an 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 su‹ested 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.

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