By Sarah Surget

At midday on the 6th June 2020, Guildford High Street was buzzing with activists ready to go marching for the Black Lives Matters Movement.  The march was in reaction to the murder of 46-year-old George Floyd by police in the USA.

Around 500 activists gathered with signs and banners to demonstrate their anger against the system. They walked and chanted to Stoke Park before lying down for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the same amount of time George Floyd found himself struggling to breath under the force of Derek Chauvin.

After those 8 minutes and 46 seconds, over the silence, an activist whose name remains unknown said “this is the moment that George Floyd died.” Testimonies from protesters mention shivers and tears in that powerful moment.

Picture taken by Joel Russell as the 8 minutes and 46 seconds time were announced.

Activists then took the stand to share their experiences and to inspire the protesters to actively intervene when they witness racism. 

Over the roar of the crowd repeating his words “I’m tired”, Timothy Mukahanana, 18, talked about his comb being confiscated as a weapon in secondary school, being followed by security at Sport Direct, and being asked for his receipt whilst leaving Tesco. 

“It is not about blacks VS whites”, he said, “it is racism VS us”. 

Chisom Ogbedeh, 23, describes the empowerment she felt when she talked to the crowd. In her words:

 “It was so overwhelming to see so many people. It was humbling to hear them listening to us. It was empowering to be able to inspire others and it made me hopeful that we might change things”.

Another activist, who mentioned when the 8 minutes and 46 seconds were over, talks about the importance of voting to have their voices heard through different demographics. The protest was largely made up of young adults, the demographic least likely to be registered to vote. However, it is important to remember that the main platform of advertisement prior to Saturday was Instagram, which would have played an important factor in having a majority of young adults. In his words during the protest:

 “We need to get the politicians here, we need to get local district attorneys here, we need to get in the police reform, we need to vote people in that actually give a fuck about black people, we need to reinvest in our black communities.”

During the protest, Amber-Valetta Nunes, 23, spoke about not having a single black lecturer for four years at the University of Surrey . 

In a report by Ajay Ajimobi released in April 2020 by the University of Surrey Students’ Union, 89% of the respondents stated that they believed there wasn’t an appropriate level of representation amongst staff at the University. The respondents were 56% White, 21% Black, 15% Asian, 3% Arab and 5% ‘other’. 

This issue highlights institutional racism in academia, also importantly exemplified by the attainment gap. The attainment gap is defined by being statistically less likely to obtain a first-class degree if you’re a black student compared to a white counterpart. In the same report on the University of Surrey, Ajay Ajimobi informs us that 89% of white students achieve a 2:1 or first, whilst 65% of black students achieve the same grade.

 Since her activism debut, Amber-Valetta Nunes has been using her social media platforms to encourage young adults to vote by educating them on the lack of representation in UK politics. In her words, “Y’all don’t remember before last week all I posted was selfies now BOOM I’m an activist”. In other words, she is the prime example of how quickly you can become the change you want to see.

Amber Valetta-Nunes as she shares her experience. Photo by Joel Russell.

But is the Black Lives Matter Movement actually worth the risk of Covid-19?

The Office for National Statistics established that black people are more than four times more likely to die from Covid-19.

 This raises a controversial debate on protesting during a pandemic despite this statistic. However, black people are faced with two options. They either try to protect their lives from Covid-19 by staying at home; OR they take advantage of the social media presence of the BLM movement and fight for change. Risking their lives at the hands of Covid-19 amplifies the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement. This is also an opportunity for non-black people to actively state that the fight against racism is more important than the exposure they may face. 

 Annika Asaman, 23, explains the importance of having a platform where honest and eye-opening conversations can take place:

“As a black woman, it is a rare opportunity to speak to a number of white people who actually listen. This is a problem that has gone for years, ingrained into the very systems that create society and just the act of people listening is the start of change.”

Timothy Mukahanana, 18, talks about the effect of the protest:

“The protest that happened over the weekend gave me hope for the future. I have often felt like a small minority in such a predominantly white town of Guildford, but seeing people turn out to support the Black Lives Matter movement had me emotional. No matter their creed, colour, religion or sexuality people stood with the black community and let the rest of the 150,000 people living in Guildford know that Black Lives Matter”.

Photo by Joel Russell

Shelly Rose Kapur, 23, “It was incredible to see how everyone listened to each other and come together peacefully”.

Indeed, in the Students’ Union report, it was also stated that 59% of respondents did not feel a sense of belonging in Guildford. Whilst reflecting on this information it is important to understand that 90,4% of Surrey’s population is white and has consistently voted conservative.

Another protest will be held Wednesday 10th June at 1pm in Stoke Park.

Masks are mandatory and social distancing is strongly encouraged. Please consider your own personal health and situation before attending the protest. If you are able to go, it sends a clear message that racism will not be tolerated in Guildford, or anywhere else. If you cannot, it’s okay, online activism also has an incredible impact, check here for other resources as to what you can do to help from the comfort of your home. 

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