The unjust and brutal murder of George Floyd has laid bare the injustices prevalent within our society, and have led to ongoing, passionate protests that hopefully and irrevocably change us for the better. The movement has stretched beyond the neighbourhood of Powderhorn Park, the city of Minneapolis and the state of Minnesota, in part due to the unfortunately familiar narrative of racial injustice, police brutality and general disregard for the voices and lives of black people.
These events have forced us as a company and a collection of diverse artistic voices to re-evaluate and refocus our attention on the core values of who we are and our responsibility to the wider sector. When describing Phoenix Dance Theatre, we purposefully and with great pride announce our founders as being “three black British men from Harehills, Leeds”. Our longstanding history representing equality and diversity is formed from this initial foundation. Therefore it is with the utmost importance that we do not shy away from where we began, especially as we look to the future as we approach our 40th anniversary.
In this moment of great unrest, it is encouraging to see long overdue conversations finally taking place. But with that often comes the opportunity for some to take advantage of this situation and to see it as a chance to speak on social issues as nothing more than a calculated decision. Racism is happening all around us so we need to take a stand. Reach out to those in your lives who are marginalised and call out racism, sign petitions and write to political leaders. Most importantly donate to charities. This isn’t a moment for black people to tell you why you should be angry and why silence is compliance. This is an opportunity for change, it’s uncomfortable , but we should feel uncomfortable about it.
Black British Culture is a force to be reckoned with, and our organisation alongside our colleagues and friends in the industry, have the power to provide a platform for cultural discussions to define and best represent OUR black voices and identities. We must champion for the support to break through the glass ceilings that are above every person of colour in this industry. This is not only for the greater good of black and brown people in this industry, but also for the betterment of the wider sector. With more prominent, fresh and diverse voices, our storytelling as an artform can only grow.
We know that like many other dance companies and organisations, we need to work harder to fight the structural racism which inherently exists in our society and which, sadly, is deeply entrenched in our sector and beyond. We know that we as an organisation have a part to play in ensuring that this painful moment brings about real and permanent change.
Written by Shawn Willis, on behalf of Phoenix Dance Theatre.