A reminder of the commitment
A message from Cephas Williams
I hope you’ve been well over this period and had a great start to the New Year, While the world has still been adjusting and growing from all things Covid and the awakening that came after the murder of George Floyd in 2020. After everything we have lost in the world including loved ones over this period, we share between us the reality that we have all made it to this moment and with that reality comes the responsibility for us individually to truly consider what we will do to make the world a better place. It’s a shame to accept that after all the noise and commitments for change that were made by leaders and leading organisations across the UK, many organisations have gone back to sleep. This goes to further stress the importance of the BBN and our collective push toward systemic change throughout the UK.
In terms of the Black British Network, across 2021 we engaged and onboarded 17 founding member companies including (Tesco, EY, Alfa, Publicis Groupe, Clear Channel, Virgin Media O2, Lucky Generals, AMVBBDO, The Co-Op Group, Dechert LLP, Sainsbury’s, Facebook (Meta), Mother, Accenture, Salesforce, Unilever, Ascential). In terms of Letter to Zion and the commitment your CEOs and organisations made in line with my vision, we have a lot to share with you and a lot in the pipeline. Whether you're looking for the latest news on The Black Paper or waiting for the next Portrait of Black Britain announcement; we have a lot to update you on and include you in this year as we take the work from strength to strength.
As we continue to drive targeted change against systemic and structural racism against the Black community, your partnership with us as a founding member organisation is valued and important. Allies who are prepared to stand with us, mobilising our collective resources and people to work toward change.
On a personal note, 2021 was hugely successful for me and my team and while we have been tactically working away on a variety of projects, we’re finally ready to share with you all what's been happening behind the scenes. It’s important for me to give credit where credit is due and as such, I’d like to take this opportunity to celebrate Natalie. Throughout the year, Natalie has worked extremely hard managing conversations with key contacts across 17 organisations for the BBN and many more across my broader strategic agenda. Last year's work would not have been possible without someone like Natalie on my team. This year we welcome 2 new people onto our team to help drive this agenda forward and manage the growth in a way that supports our capacity.
Before we get into the finer details and updates, we are excited to share some of the activities to look out for this year including the release of The Black Paper, the second set of our Roundtable Conversations, the BBN Conference and Portrait of Black Britain UK Tour to name a few.
We look forward to working with you as we continue to drive the change that many leaders and organisations promised after the murder of George Floyd, by keeping the conversation going in a centralised manner through the Black British Network vehicle.
Letter to Zion has since been signed by 44 executives who have committed to supporting this conversation personally and through their organisations for the long run. It is extremely important that as noted in my letter to my son, we do not go back to sleep, we do not drop the ball on this conversation and keep this collective agenda in a position of priority and importance.
One of the things that was evident was how far we still have to go and how many things were rushed in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. The Roundtable Conversations also served as a moment of healing for us as well as a moment to pause, compare notes/thoughts, reflect and reset.
It is with this in mind that I send you this note followed by a breakdown/update on our activities below. I look forward to welcoming you all to this year's roundtable conversations and engaging with you across our program of work this year.
This is Year 2, we have so much more to achieve but I am hopeful that if we all play our part and work together, nothing will be impossible for us to achieve. Together We Are Stronger.
In 2021, we coordinated 10 Roundtable Conversations weekly across 5-weeks, bringing together Black members of staff, leading organisations, CEOs, decision-makers and people within the Black community collectively, to centralise a conversation for change. These conversations were held/hosted across Zoom and in person and were attended by 691 people across 17 organisations in the UK, including 250 Black members of the public.
After the killing of Black people across 2020 and more visibly the murder of George Floyd, there was a groundswell of awareness and momentum focused on the experience of the Black community within a western construct globally and how we bring about positive change. Throughout the roundtable conversations, we encouraged participants to engage authentically around a Black focused conversation as detailed in Cephas’ vision which he communicated in Letter to Zion.
We created a safe space for participants to:
Unpack Black History, the impact of George Floyd’s murder on society and the sense of urgency that was born from the cultural and social visibility of Black people
Explore how the events of 2020 shaped society's understanding and attitude toward the topic of racism and how we dismantle systemic racism
Reflect on the corporate landscape following these events and the initiatives that were put in place.
Examine what has and has not worked and compare how success is measured within various organisations.
Discuss the world we want to see and how to ensure the conversation not only continues long-term but speaks to legacy.
Discuss accountability and practical steps that individuals can take and seismic shifts organisations can make to bring about the change needed.
Our founding members included organisations listed in Cephas’ opening message.
In 2022, we will be adding more organisations to this list as we onboard more companies to focus on this collective mission and announce them joining the BBN across our online channels.
As an existing member of the BBN, we will be sending you further information regarding our second year of the Roundtable Conversations, as soon as we have touched base with key contacts across each organisation. This year, we are aiming to host a hybrid set of discussions both in person and virtually. As a founding member, your participation in the next set of discussions will mean there is no compulsory financial commitment to attend our second set of roundtable conversations which again will feed into The Black Paper ‘year 2 review’.
The Black Paper
The Black Paper will serve as a place for us and our members to measure the growth of our conversations and tangible points of change over the years, alongside the learnings extracted from our Roundtable Conversations.
Our initial aim for The Black Paper was to coordinate a series of sessions after our roundtable conversations where we extract the learnings collectively with a few key contacts from each organisation. However, what we found is that it became increasingly difficult to coordinate between all 17 organisations involved after an intense 5 week period of conversations, in a manner that was effective and meaningful. At the time, we also had a smaller team and were operating across a very broad spectrum of work.
With that in mind, across Q4 last year and the beginning of this year, Cephas has been meticulously extracting the learnings from all of our conversations and carefully presenting the findings and key points that came out of each session. The length of time spent on this, as well as what has been explained above, has been to ensure that The Black Paper is not just a document that is rushed but is well considered. To achieve this Cephas has had to listen back to over 58 + hours of conversations. This is to make sure that this paper as an introduction to a much broader legacy piece is not only accurate but meaningful.
Black British Stories
We've created a video content series of Black people in the community as well as Black employees in allied companies sharing their stories and thoughts on the Black experience, past, present and hopes for the future. As detailed in Cephas’ initial video here.
Cephas has teamed up with Simon Pegg and Sony International Pictures to produce the first set of videos and we are now planning the launch which we will also invite employees from our member companies to attend.
“Cephas’ letter to Zion is beautiful and heartfelt. I love the fact that it simultaneously offers hope, a way forward, and a scathing indictment of where we are now.”
Stolen Picture, Co-founder
"I was introduced to Cephas Williams through Simon Pegg and was immediately captivated by the intelligence, integrity and style with which Cephas has crafted his work. In Cephas’ 'Letter to Zion' he described systemic racism as a weed ‘choking the goodness out of our world’. That’s a powerful image - the challenge isn’t just about levelling playing fields going forward, important as that is; it’s also about society recognising that systemic racism is a poison that infects and corrodes our values. Cephas’ work is important and impactful and I am delighted that Sony Pictures have been able to support his vision through Black British Stories."
Sony Pictures TV International Production, COO
Portrait of Black Britain
In July, we launched Portrait of Black Britain, a series co-commissioned by Manchester International Festival. Cephas showcased the initial 116 portraits with aims to amplify and recognise the contributions made by Black people living in the UK, giving a holistic picture of the various roles Black people play in society and providing more visibility for future generations in a centralised way that speaks to legacy.
With the mission to reach 1000 portraits, in 2021 Cephas took the body of work to 219 portraits. We came together with Landsec to launch the second phase in Bluewater Shopping Centre in November 2021. Just four months following the incident that took place in Bluewater, where Cephas was harassed and wrongly accused of stealing by House of Fraser security. Cephas transformed this negative and racially aggravated experience into an opportunity to further showcase and acknowledge the achievements of Black British people, re introducing our contribution and the various roles we play within British society. Portraits include members of the Black community alongside Black staff who work for organisations who are members of the BBN.
You can read more about Portrait of Black Britain and see the entire collection of images and exhibitions to date here.
The Portrait of Black Britain series has gone from strength to strength, we have already achieved 219 portraits and secured coverage in the BBC, ITV News, Metro, The Drum and many more.
We are currently working on the third phase of Portrait of Black Britain. We are working closely with Landsec and will be touring the portrait series across the UK. If you’d like to be involved as we grow the series, please let us know and we can pick this up with you accordingly.