This is an exciting opportunity: to contribute to creating a future where racism is absent, with Black communities at the forefront of deciding and designing what they need to live fulfilling, thriving lives.
This is the world BTG are determined to attain, a world where Black people flourish and their futures are abundant with possibilities.
Black people face systemic racism across many domains of life, including education, housing and employment, with this experience of racism taking place throughout their life journeys. The impact of this systemic exposure can be seen in high levels of detention in mental health services, the criminal justice system, exclusion from the education system and poorer experiences of health and social care.
BTG exists to transform this trajectory through ensuring Black voices are central in creating the solutions that matter. BTG’s focus is on systemic/institutional change, alongside work to empower Black people to make positive changes benefiting them wherever they are located. The National Lottery Community Fund, via its Growing Great Ideas programme, has awarded BTG £5,000,000 over ten years to achieve this vision through its Thriving Futures Collective project.
A Black-Led Ecology
One of our philosophies is to behave in a way that encourages humans to flourish in a way that gives encouragement and hope to others in the same system.
In pursuit of this interdependent vision, BTG operates in its community as part of a wide-ranging ecology of organisations working on inequality, race and mental health, all seeking to improve outcomes for Black people across the UK. These organisations include mental health charity Mind, in the London borough of Haringey, and Catalyst 4 Change , in Birmingham.
Working together we hope to develop and test BTG’s successful, National Lottery-funded Black Thrive Lambeth partnership model. This has influenced how the local health system listens and engages with the local community through approaches including, placing community members in decision-making structures and developing community-led projects.
Beyond these two neighbourhood-based programmes, we are looking to build and connect a network of Black-led organisations and leaders. Acknowledging there are some organisations already building these kinds of networks, BTG hopes to convene these groups together to maximise our collective impact.
“It’s not about doing everything ourselves, but about supporting people to make links and connections to create a support network enabling Black leaders to deliver real change in the lives of our communities,” says Lela Kogbara, one of BTG’s four Directors.
This is about Black communities thriving. BTG works alongside communities to work out what they see as the key issues: what good looks like for them, creating spaces to heal from the negative impacts of the relentless anti-Black racism they face and finding a way to measure the change they want to see (not necessarily sticking with what’s measured already).
Aligned with the above is the third strand of BTG’s work which is to rethink how data is used to describe the experience of inequality facing Black people in the UK, and the opportunities presented by producing data collaboratively with communities. As part of this work, BTG will encourage connections between Black data scientists and the wider community, further building the Black-led ecology we are seeding.
While BTG’s vision is clear, and our ecosystem is expanding, we will still face challenges in achieving it.
Many different organisations and people are working to eliminate racism and unequal mental health outcomes on the basis of race, but often on the fringes. For instance, BTG has connected with Black-led organisations, Black practitioners and allies who are working to challenge cultural assumptions within mental health training to nurture a workforce that is able to deliver care that meets the cultural needs of Black communities.
While this work is vital, Lela laments that a mechanism to mainstream doesn’t currently exist. Indeed, there may well be resistance to such mainstreaming because it challenges the status quo so change will take time.
Lela says, “People do what they do. They’ve built whole careers around particular models and they may initially resist change.”
To counter this difficulty, we will encourage the redirection of resources within statutory and other organisations, particularly white-led and powerful organisations, to consider racial equity as a core part of their work. BTG will clearly identify the effects and impact of inequalities embedded in existing policies and practices.
Lela adds, “We will ask how, within their core work, can they focus on the Black experience and consider that in a different way, and make it a routine part of what they do?” We will ensure community voices are heard and considered by statutory systems.
There is cause for optimism. Lela is finding that generally, BTG has so far found organisations it has spoken with to be willing to take the matter seriously. A group of mental health charities have agreed to work alongside us, including to hire a staff member specifically to coordinate the collaborative work. This is an example of ensuring the Black perspective and voice is considered and not ignored.
The Challenge of Hope
Another major challenge we’re likely to face in achieving our vision centres around hope, or the lack of it.
“A key part of what we’re doing is helping people to be hopeful in the face of what might be negative,” says Lela. “Post Covid, there is a much higher rate of mental illness and unemployment. This context means that people could feel hopeless, which may deter them from engaging in something that seems realistic or achievable.”
To combat this hopelessness, BTG’s work will centre on ‘how to hold the dream, creating and experiencing Black joy, overcoming the grimness of the situation; to validate peoples’ [negative] experiences while at the same time, give them hope.’
BTG sees empowering people with the knowledge that they can still achieve things, make progress, and thrive, regardless of the system, as a key goal. Black people have a long history of resourcefulness and innovative solutions in repressing inequality and prejudice. We aim for a future where Black communities have genuine opportunities to thrive.
We are already speaking with other organisations about how they can use their existing funding and platform to bring in more resources through collaborative funding bids. We also need to bring fresh ideas of how we collaborate and effectively enable people to contribute their skills, knowledge and time etc.
We are doing so because they recognise that while their projects have received a significant resource-boost thanks to our recently awarded Growing Great Ideas grant from The National Lottery Community Fund, BTG also knows such a long-term goal requires significant resources.
There is a need to build infrastructures that will last – to make racial equity central to the work of actors across the board. Similarly, there is a need to create space with Black communities to create, run and challenge the systems and institutions they and their communities are affected by.
Ultimately, BTG’s goal is to start a movement: one that is Black-led and committed to change over the long haul. We know that change will come with the support of our community and allies. Your contribution is key – we need you to get in touch to help improve the lives and living conditions of Black people in your communities.
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