'We can't afford to fail': Council recommits to stamping out racism in Hackney

Hackney Council is recommitting to action at every level of the organisation in order to become a truly anti-racist council and borough, following a seminal four-day anti-racism event it hosted last week. 

Honest conversations. Leaders who want to make a difference. Recognising the lived experiences of Black and Global Majority residents. And institutionalising anti-racist ways of working are some of the ways this can be achieved, according to keynote speaker Dr David Weaver, President, Chair & CEO of British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, 

Dr Weaver, who was one of several inspirational speakers to attend the event, told the audience: “Wherever there’s racism we’re having to fight for it to be recognised. Mircoaggressions and other forms of racism are like death by a thousand cuts - but these lived experiences aren’t being recognised. We have to understand the impact racism has on people's mental health. Unless we understand the holistic issues around racism it will be difficult to contend with the issues here in Hackney.”

Mark Carroll, Chief Executive of Hackney Council, outlined some of the work the Council is doing and will do to become anti-racist and drive change in the borough. 

“Hackney Council is redefining itself as an anti-racist council,” he said. “It’s about institutional change and a commitment to change. Having a plan and putting it into action. 

“We have to be accountable to the community. The people of Hackney expect us to understand them and hear their voices. We have the Veronica Ryan Windrush statues. The naming of Brafa Square. The Review, Rename, Reclaim work. These are representative of whose stories are getting told.

“And this is our chance to influence - nationally, not just locally. It is a moment for Hackney to be an exemplar to the rest of the country.”

The four-day event, attended by hundreds of people from the Council, and other children and family-focussed organisations, aimed to ‘unmask, repair and prevent’ the hidden wounds of racial trauma in order to further and critically develop anti-racist ways of working within the Council and within education settings in Hackney.

 Philip Glanville, Mayor of Hackney

We haven’t just started this journey. We are here at a key moment in history: George Floyd; Child Q; and the disproportionate impact of the pandemic [on Black and Global Majority people]. This is blatant racism and we have to be aware of how traumatising that can be. We have a lot to do to empower Black voices at every level of the organisation. People are looking at us, and asking: are we really going to make that change? And we can’t afford to fail.

Philip Glanville, Mayor of Hackney
Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Deputy Mayor of Hackney and Cabinet Member for Education, Young People and Children’s Social Care

How do allies empower and educate themselves? We have to be comfortable being uncomfortable talking about race. Change won’t happen if we keep skirting around the issue. Unless we tackle the ethos in every institution we will be here again. Child Q didn’t happen in isolation or in a vacuum. It is part of a wider systemic issue. We must work to be on the right side of history.

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Deputy Mayor of Hackney and Cabinet Member for Education, Young People and Children’s Social Care

The conference heard from several prominent speakers, including Rosemary Campbell-Stephens MBE; Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu; Jahnine Davis who talked about racism; historical trauma; topical issues and racism prevention. 

Ms Campbell-Stephens, veteran educator and anti-racism activist, said: “We have reached a critical juncture; there are times when you know you’re living through a historical paradigm shift - this is one of those times. We need to acknowledge and tell the truth; we are not really having grown-up, adult, truthful conversations [about racism]. 

“Part of the trauma is the dehumanising process that minoritises [Black and Global Majority people] or centres whiteness as the norm. We need to bring ourselves [as Black and Global Majority people] and work alongside and in partnership.”

She added: “Every child should leave statutory education without a true understanding of who they are.” 

Dozens of workshops were held throughout the week, including looking at how discrimination, stereotypes, oppression and microaggressions impact Black and Global Majority children and families; the impact of day-to-day racism on mental health; equalities, diversion and inclusion in schools; and the voice and influence of young people. 

Mark Carroll said: “We have been talking about anti-racism for over 50 years, but on the key issues of employment, mental health, school exclusions, we haven’t seen as much change as we expect and need. Young people today are having the similar experiences of racism that their parents had, and that isn’t acceptable. This week has been an opportunity to learn, reflect and for us as an organisation to commit to action.”

The conference forms part of the Council’s Anti-Racism Action Plan which launched in 2021. This sees the Council lead from the inside out by investigating how inclusive it is and how it tackles all forms of racism in the community.