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After the murder of George Floyd on 25th May in the US, Starling like the rest of the world started having honest conversations about race and discrimination. These conversations made us realise that we could be doing more to support the collective fight against racism not only just in wider society, but at Starling too.

So from now on we’re going to do better.

We’ve started the conversation internally. We’ve also decided to support two organisations, The 4Front Project and Colorintech, which help the black community in the UK with different aspects of the fight against systemic racism. To begin with we’ve donated to both of them and we’ll also find ways to keep our relationship with them going.

In this blog we’ll hear from people at both organisations so that they can tell their stories in their own words.

The 4Front Project

4Front Members
Members of the 4Front team

The 4Front Project is a youth led social enterprise that was set up by Temi Mwale in 2012. It was set up to provide a platform for young people who’ve been impacted by violence and the criminal justice system to create change.

Sara Chitseko, the Head of Development and Policy, explains that the organisation empowers “young people to fight for justice, peace and freedom.”

4Front enables young people to use their voices so that they can lead the structural change needed to build peace within their communities. It was set up to support young people aged 13-25, however the majority of their members are black boys aged 15-21 years old.

Membership is free and long term. Sara and the rest of the team also act as advocates for members if they need support navigating the criminal justice system, education system and statutory services.

Temi was motivated to set up 4Front when she was 16 years old after a childhood friend was killed. At the time she also realised that her peers at school weren’t getting the support they deserved. "Young people are marginalised at school and they are told they won’t amount to anything,” says Sara.

4Front believes that change needs to happen on three different levels:

  • Individual
  • Communal
  • And Societal

These levels of change are seen through the ways in which they support young people. To help with their personal development 4Front gives them one-to-one mentoring and holds workshops. They’re also there to provide young people with crisis support by “going to the police station, court, and hospital.”

4Front organisation
The 4Front team with members of the organisation

To help create change on a societal level, a key part of the organisation involves empowering young people to campaign and amplifying their voices by giving them platforms to share their experiences. 4Front members have spoken at Parliament and made short films, which have been shown on various platforms, including at Southbank University.

“We understand violence in context and not in a vacuum," Sara says. “We know that it’s down to lack of support, education and employment,” which is why change has to be “led by the local community.” For this reason 4Front is based on the north west London estate of Grahame Park where its founder grew up. The team also works with other communities around the country through partnerships.

Many 4Front members have experienced community violence, compounded by institutional racism and police brutality. “The police killing of George Floyd in the US highlighted police brutality and police killings in the UK. There have been 1,744 deaths in police custody or following police contact since 1990 and not one police officer has been held accountable,” Sara says, citing data from the charity INQUEST.

Many black people in the UK are victims of police brutality every day. They survive, but rarely access support to deal with this trauma. “That’s why our approach centres healing, rather than punishment. We’ve pioneered a unique approach that empowers those directly harmed by violence and the criminal justice system to be at the forefront of grassroots movement for change.”

Colorintech

Colorintech is a nonprofit organisation that was founded by Silicon Valley tech executive Dion McKenzie and ex-Google employee Ashleigh Ainsley. The main goal of the organisation is to “make Europe the most inclusive and diverse tech hub in the world,” says Dion. The nonprofit was created after years of him being the only black executive on boards and teams.

Colorintech founders
Colorintech founders Ashley Ainsley (L) and Dion McKenzie (R)

It’s rare to find a black person at a senior level in the industry and it’s even more of a rarity in the UK. “There are so many black professionals in tech in the UK, but they never get to director level,” says Dion. Colorintech strives to change this through one of their programs in particular, Development@, created to help people who are already in the industry get into leadership roles so that they don’t become stagnant - a reality for many black professionals.

The other two programs they offer are Rise, focused on entrepreneurs, and Tech Career Readiness, targeted at students and recent graduates. People aged 15-60 can participate in their programs, designed to support them in building up an essential network to aid them in their efforts to get ahead in tech.

As conversations about systemic racism continue, many have asked how the tech industry can do better. According to Dion there are three things that the industry can do:

1) Collect data

In order to improve, businesses need to securely collect data on the race and ethnicity of their employees so they know where the problem lies. And based on the data they can build their targets.

2) Have specific targets

Businesses need to “be specific on the problem they’re trying to solve and who they’re trying to solve it for.” Many think that it’s enough to target BAME employees, but that isn’t specific enough - it groups together many different races and “the problem and the gap really is black.”

The key is to focus on how to help mid to high-level black professionals progress without making them tokens and to attract talent at entry level.

3) Remember that this is everybody’s problem

This problem isn’t exclusive to HR and leadership teams - this concerns everybody. The industry needs to think beyond numbers and start looking at how they can promote a more inclusive way of working so that black employees can actually be themselves. “I don’t even know too many black professionals and even executives who can fully bring their whole selves to work without the thought of being reprimanded, or the thought of how will this affect my career?”

Once executives and people at the most senior levels decide that they want to become allies, they need to turn their intentions into action. Or as Dion says “we need to hear your voices.”

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