“I know it might seem strange, me writing to you when you are just a baby, but when you are old enough to read this letter, you will know why I had to write it now. Monday, 8th of June 2020 was a huge day for me, perhaps the most important day of my life. We had anticipated your arrival for 2 weeks as your due date was set for the 26th of May. Before your due date I had suspended all my meetings, I had also planned to switch off my phone and disconnect from the world so I could focus 100% of my time on you. Then, something terrible happened. On the 25th of May, In America, a man named George Floyd was needlessly killed by police officers, simply because he was a Black man, a person of African descent. The news travelled to homes around the world, and no one could dismiss it.”
Quote taken from 'Letter to Zion' written by Cephas Williams
From May 25th 2020 till the end of that year, the impact the murder of George Floyd had on the world was evident. During this period, for many it felt like something we had not seen before. Over the summer Cephas Williams recieved hundreds of messages across social media and his email from people across a society, from various cultural backgrounds. Black people amongst non-Black allies would message ; it was evident that the impact the murder of George Floyd had across society was one that could change the state of things for life. At the same time, Cephas was looking to welcome his first son to the world, Zion but could not find it within himself to ignore what felt like a call from not only people across society but allies and leaders who reached out too. It was a combination of these things that inspired him to write 'Letter to Zion' and introduce the Black British Network (BBN) to the world.
The Coporate Response
After the traction the murder of George Floyd gained across the world in various countries, with each day that went by it became increasingly difficult for companies/leaders to ignore what was happening. This was because of many reasons, 3 main reasons it became an issue that Coporate companies in the UK could not ignore were
1 ) Employees / Many of the Black people working at these companies started to speak up about issues they had been facing internally over the years.
2 ) Stakeholders / Many people across society from various nationalities started to call out companies from every sector, calling for the leadership to respond. Because the stake holders spoke up, it because even harder to not respond.
3 ) Clients / Many companies started speaking out about the issue and some called out companies they work with to respond, behind the scenes and publicly.
These 3 things amongst many others meant that for some companies to keep a healthy/working relationship with employees, stakeholders and clients they had to stand in solidarity with the Black community both internally and publicly, this also meant that many attempts to do this were tokenistic, with CEO's and executives signing whatever was put in front of them and speaking with as many Black people as possible at the time. This hot flash of activity meant that the efforts that followed were either tone deaf or did not last. It also meant the focus for many became about their own altruism or their companies efforts to stand next to the Black agenda as oppose to our collective efforts to stand behind it.
Cephas Williams Response
As the momentum grew Cephas became in undated with requests to speak and do a lot with organisations who had gone straight to action plans that Cephas felt were "paper thin and not skin deep". Instead of using that summer as a opportunity to sign up as many leaders as possible or make as many TV appearances as he could, he released a campaign titled 'Let's Not Forget'. He then spent the rest of that summer writing Letter to Zion.
That year Cephas also spoke with over 100 leaders, CEOs and executives from some of the largest organisations within their sector in the UK and globally, he would be on back to back zoom calls to establish interest and commitment for the BBN. He would send them Letter to Zion and engage them in meaningful conversation to see who was wiling and ready to commit to a centralised conversation, not just for that year but for the long run. In 2021, Cephas held the first roundtable conversations after signing up 17 companies as founding members of the BBN and 44 leaders who signed up in commitment to use their various spheres of influence to support the vision as articulated in Letter to Zion.
With the understanding that this is as much a social issue as it is a systemic issue, the proposition was to create something that connected both worlds in a way that speaks to us working together with a shared vision and mission for change. For us to create something that will be a centralised congregation of the dialog, a space for us to share what we've done alongside our learnings, where it has worked and where we have got it wrong. A place to compare notes and keep the conversation going.
A coming together of those who lead the systems and processes we look to change and those who are negatively effected by these systems, in a way that prioritises collaboration over the competitive nature of commerce. A space where competing companies can come together for the good of humanity, working together to improve systems and frameworks. Using our various spheres of influence to coordinate and action the change we all agree we need to see.
As part of Cephas' commitment in Letter to Zion, he understood that he was not above the accountability he was requesting from leaders of other organisations, and so he introduced the Black British Network as a commitment to his son Zion, and to the next generation.