BLOG: Liverpool Against Racism – A landmark event for the city

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It’s been a powerful, thought-provoking, entertaining, empowering and educational week as Liverpool did what it does best, and staged a unique event or local, national and international importance. Here, Mayor of Liverpool, Joanne Anderson, reflects on how Liverpool Against Racism impacted on her personally, and asks people to tell her what they want the legacy of the event to be.

Liverpool Against Racism (LAR) showcased the very best of who we are as a city.  We are passionate campaigners of social justice, we are extremely talented and we look out for one another.

LAR exceeded my wildest expectations.  It has been so heart-warming for me to witness the organisations, artists, activists and allies who responded to our call-out to get involved.  Everyone was invited and the response has been phenomenal. 

When I threw my hat in for the role of Mayor there were many raised eyebrows – the unconscious bias was prevalent, which only made me more determined.

I do not fulfil a mayoral stereotype – and I’m proud of that. Social conscience and community have always been key pillars of my role and that came to the fore during the last week. The make-up of every event was diverse with people of different ages and from different backgrounds coming together in solidarity against racism.

My only disappointment was that with so much going on, I couldn’t attend everything and be in more than one place at one time. At the end of the week, I am exhausted and exhilarated in equal measure.

The quality of the discussion by local, national and international activists was likened by DJ and presenter Bobby Friction as an “intellectual Glastonbury”.  A label I love, and we all know how much scousers love Glastonbury.

As a city we excel at festivals and I would never have thought about mixing an agenda I am so passionate about, with the concept of a festival.

Some of my highlights and key learning points from the festival are:

On the launch night, sponsors provided commendations to those people who do great work to support Liverpool Against Racism. Bonnie Greer gave a speech and talked about Black people being our ancestors’ wildest dreams – this had a deep impact on those in the room.  Another poignant message was that Black history must be taught in schools and we don’t have enough Black teachers to do it – so all teachers need to step up.

The music day was just a beautiful vibe of 40 talented local artists who signed up to support LAR and provide us with an eclectic feast of the Liverpool music scene.  Rebecca Ferguson was a massive highlight for me, while KOF, Mic Lowry and DJ Hannah Lynch and DJ G33 (Girls Don’t Sync) had us dancing away in venue District. I love The Farm for consistently standing up against racism.

David Olusoga, so beautifully articulate and eloquent, set the scene as the keynote speaker of the conference launch. He talked about racism as a social construct built up over decades. On purpose.  What I took away from this is that we have to be purposeful in our fight against racism which is continuous and ongoing, and it may take decades to eradicate. LAR is just a drop in the ocean of the work that needs to be done.

I attended the media workshop at the conference with a panel of Charlene White and others.  They all talked about improvements in entry-level jobs in media and spoke about the lack of representation from the decision-makers. I wondered whether the lack of national media coverage of the event correlates with the lack of diversity in the hierarchy of the media. I challenge anyone to find another city in the UK which has staged events of this quality and calibre about racism.

I only caught the end of the sports panel where former professional boxer Tony Bellew was speaking. I love his commitment to helping those most disadvantaged to show that there are different options available to young people through boxing.  He has already been in to see me as Mayor, to make sure the ‘Weapons Down Gloves Up’ programme has a reach right across the city.

American writer Kevin Powell was our final speaker of the day. I knew nothing of Kevin before the event and was blown away by his presentation on his thoughts, opinions and experience.  Kevin had a preacher-like style.  I have never been in the same room as anyone like Kevin.  He brought a few of us to tears during his talk – I couldn’t control my emotions when he talked about George Floyd crying out for his Mama. He also said “poverty is violence” – a message that will resonate in Liverpool as a city who unfortunately knows poverty only too well.

I asked people to think about what they would do differently as a result of attending this conference. For myself, I have pledged to address the issues we have in education. If we don’t tackle Black history and anti-racism with our young, what kind of future will we have?

George Floyd. Anthony Walker. Stephen Lawrence. These names are synonymous with sadness – a roll call of murder and an untimely passing. I want to live in a world where we are hearing a roll call of young, black men and women for all the right reasons – because they are talented achievers who should be rightly acknowledged.

I am so proud of everyone involved. Speaking to Dominique Walker, we talked about who we are as a collective of people, organisations and allies who are in this together.

I went to watch American hip hop group Arrested Development at Kitchen Street on Tuesday night with ‘People Everyday’ being one of my favourite songs.  They were amazing and have got in touch on Twitter to let me know they are delighted that the City Mayor was at their gig. Of course, I represent a UNESCO City of Music. Music is Liverpool’s lifeblood.

I met Chris Lubbe who was Nelson Mandela’s bodyguard.  He taught me more about forgiveness in the hour I spent with him, than I have learned in my whole life. He shared many stories with me of Nelson Mandela (who loved Liverpool, especially as it was his team), but a big take-away for me was that Mandela was a leader without malice and a leader who listened.

I might have created the spark to make the event happen, but Liverpool and its talented people definitely kept the fire burning. People have told me that they want LAR to be an annual event – and I hand over the gauntlet to Liverpool to tell me what you want in future.

I need to say a big thank you to curator Yaw Owusu, Alicia Smith and the Culture team, all the artists, performances, dancers, poets musicians and venues for the music day. Also Liverpool City Council’s Mayoral Team and Communications team. All our community organisations and individual speakers and everyone who got involved.

From the initial launch event to every night going to bed, I felt an overwhelming sense of love – and thought that maybe that it was just me on a high from so much attention being given to a cause I am passionate about. However, I saw a clip of band members from The Farm at the music day saying there was an amazing feeling of love in the air. The opposite of hate is love – and to quote that famous line from our most famous talented musicians  ‘All you need is love.’  

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