The King and Queen Consort will visit Yorkshire today for engagements that explore the UK’s history and relationship with the Commonwealth.
It is of immense significance to me personally and to the wider discussion on racial equity that His Majesty, as part of his visit, will be viewing a number of The World Reimagined globes on display in Leeds City Centre.
The World Reimagined is a national arts and education project that explores the history and impact of the transatlantic trade in the enslavement of Africans.
The aim is to transform how we understand this period and allow us to better understand our combined history.
Artists were commissioned to depict their interpretations of the trade.
Their unique designs have been applied to a large globe sculpture shape devised by our founder, Turner Prize-nominated artist Yinka Shonibare CBE.
The trails are the centre of a broader education and engagement programme, with more than 200 schools, 100 community organisations, 58 corporate partners and various sporting and cultural institutions across the country.
The hope is the project will inspire and instil pride in what it means to be black and British and help us all better understand what it means to be British.
I am one of the trustees and sit on the board that brought this nascent idea, born out of a fleeting conversation, to life.
Imagine what all of us could do to make racial justice a reality if we deeply understood our shared history and truly acknowledged one another.
This ethos is the seed from which The World Reimagined has grown.
As we spoke with more and more people across the UK, we were inspired by the desire and readiness of people from all walks of life to have this conversation about our shared history for our shared future.
Together, we knew it doesn’t diminish who we are as a society, but in its courage enhances our collective identity and what it means to be British.
That’s what we’ve seen in the extraordinary and enormous community that has brought The World Reimagined to life.
We’ve seen artists transform their experience, insight and talent into stunning sculptures that have been invitations to learning for the public.
We’ve seen teachers step forward into their roles as racial justice leaders in their school communities, historians share their expertise, and community activists combine compassion and persistence to keep the conversation going.
Shortly after the killing of George Floyd in the US on the 25 May 2020, I hosted a special global debate programme for Sky News called Race and Revolution: Is Change Going to Come? in which I was joined by historians, activists, business and cultural leaders and a virtual studio audience to discuss what should happen next in the fight to eradicate racism and create equality.
A seat at the table is what was demanded, an acknowledgement of equal humanity and most encouragingly a sense that this tragedy had provided a tipping point that would lead to positive change.
I do believe the killing of one man on a street in Minneapolis led to a global demand for change.
The Black Lives Matter movement has come to the fore, statues have been toppled – rightly or wrongly depending on your viewpoint, institutions have offered to make amends, to learn and to do better.
I feel optimistic it was more than just a moment.
I’m proud to say the then chief executive of Sky, Jeremy Darroch, promised that the company would be a more diverse and inclusive organisation, especially at senior levels
The aim was to listen and take advice from black and minority ethnic colleagues, so the wider organisation could make the changes that really matter. The changes that bring us closer to true equality.
Everyone at Sky was encouraged to take responsibility to educate themselves and understand the issues, so the right conversations happened, however uncomfortable they may be.
A promise was made to work with colleagues and charities to make a difference in communities.
Sky is making a significant financial contribution towards the fight for racial equality, supporting causes affecting black and minority ethnic communities.
It’s hoped the investment will ensure the company plays its part in building a more tolerant and inclusive society, working on issues of racial injustice and with communities affected by it.
Sky has engaged in having a challenging and robust discussion, about race, racism and achieving true equality. The company committed to an additional £10m a year until 2023 to support and embed the various changes.
It was this commitment by Sky and the ground-shifting events of George Floyd’s killing that emboldened me to ask the company to support The World Reimagined. They accepted the invitation and became the Official Presenting Partner.
King’s ‘personal sorrow’ over slave trade
Today we see the King interacting with the project in Leeds.
We have been encouraged by His Majesty’s acknowledgement the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans must be publicly addressed and taught in schools with the same prominence as the Holocaust.
Before becoming King, he spoke of his “personal sorrow” at the UK’s historical links with the trade during his visit to Rwanda earlier this year and vowed to campaign for greater public awareness of slavery, the lack of which dogged the Royal Family’s recent overseas tours.
The King seems genuinely interested in trying to understand our past and how it informs the present and future.
He described the enslavement of Africans as an “appalling atrocity”, saying “it forever stains our history” when he spoke at an event to mark Barbados becoming a republic.
At The World Reimagined, we believe in a patriotism that says we as a country are strong and courageous enough to own our shared past and present honestly, so that we can create a better future – together.
That is the invitation these incredible works of art have extended to the public in recent months.
We have been so inspired by the students, families, communities and companies that have stepped into this conversation.
It is meaningful to see the King’s determination to join the recognition this is a conversation everybody needs to be a part of and in which everyone has a role to play.
All 103 artist-commissioned globes will be on display for two days in Trafalgar Square in London on 19 and 20 November.