self-care: breathe846.org – reclaim time from racism

One month after George Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis sent cries of ‘No Justice, No Peace’ reverberating around the globe, we invite Black men, their allies, and organisations that work in support of them, to join us in defiant acts of radical self-care – acts that can help us to deal with the trauma of George Floyd’s ignored pleas of ‘I can’t breathe’ – a plea ignored because he was a Black man.

Tomorrow (25 June 2020) we invite you to BREATHE846.org

Available for one week, the site will offer visitors a menu of specially created video interventions through which they  can experience ways of taking greater care of their own healing, discover support from a range of organisations concerned with Black men’s mental health,  mourn George Floyd and others lost to racism, or simply relax. Together, we aim to build our resilience, and networks for the necessary, ongoing struggle for justice.

The lead partners BlackOut UK and Survivors UK are both continually seeking to build deeper and stronger connections with Black men; and to offer the kind of support that is needed right now. The project was developed from an original idea by actor, Nathan Armakwei Laryea. Both organisations have noticed greater levels of stress and anxiety among the men they are working with. Evidence released during Loneliness Awareness Week by Outlife pointed to greater levels of anxiety, depression, and loneliness among Black LGBT people.

Other project partners who have come forward to support this project despite a short lead in time include, Patsy Isles and Joy Francis from Words of Colour, the National Gallery, Thrive LDN, Ash Alves from Warrior Reminder with youth charity The Mix, Lambeth’s Black Thrive, former professional rugby player Ali McKenzie, therapeutic sound artist Dawn Smith, filmmaker Seye Isikalu, actor Colin Salmon, singer/songwriter Morgan and spoken word poet, Brisbon Kofi. All keen to see innovative, digital support for mental health and wellbeing, all keen to ensure that we find ways to support each other in addressing racism.

In the past month we have experienced greater focus on the patterns of racial injustice that remain too prevalent in our lives, and (inevitably) evidence of how resistant wider society, including government, is to the change required. We have been reminded, (as if we ever had the chance to forget), that racism kills – whether through a ‘malign neglect’ that drove disproportionate deaths as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic, state violence, or the daily additional stressors that both the fear and experience of racist persecution create.

All keen to ensure that we support each other in addressing racism.

We know that the news cycle will hurry to move on. We know the struggle will remain. Statues are important symbols; celebrity mea culpa may well encourage discussions on racism to briefly reach further; and to Munira-or-not may excite the Number 10 wonk watchers – none, however, address the unemployment/underemployment of Black men in the labour market, over surveillance and under protection they receive from the criminal justice system, harsher discipline and lower expectations they are subject to in schools as children, nor the lack of priority given to their mental health in primary care that results in accessing services only when in crisis, nor, tragically, the higher rates of suicide, despite accessing treatment.

Black Queer Lives Matter’ placards were held aloft among the protests globally, and BLM LDN reached out to BlackOut and others to ensure that queer voices were included in the protes

For Black men with minoritised sexualities or who are trans, the intersection of racist and homophobic/transphobic structures of oppression require acknowledgement and specific culturally competent interventions. BlackOut is working to articulate these experiences and supporting more Black queer men to form a movement for change. While ‘Black Queer Lives Matter’ placards were held aloft among the protests globally, and BLM LDN reached out to BlackOut and others to ensure that queer voices were included in the protest. By contrast, the government’s 2017 National LGBT Survey of over a hundred thousand people, and the subsequent action plan failed to offer any insights into Black Queer Lives. We remain invisible to officialdom in most policy/public service decisions outside of sexual health.

Breathe 846 sets out to remind Black men, and others, of the importance of creating and maintaining supportive networks, and of being intentional about healing from the trauma of racism. We are doing this because our communities have asked us to, but also so that justified anger, understandable frustration, and painful memories do not become barriers to our interactions with each other or our progress towards more fulfilled lives.

If all of All Black Lives Matter, we need to create communities of care that attend to our physical and mental health, and overturns the patterns of burnout and exhaustion that are too often a feature of activists’ lives.

The Breathe846.org website will go live at 8pm – reflecting the time that George Floyd was stopped by the Minneapolis police officers.