Liverpool’s Black Lives Matter protesters on what they want next

Organisers of Liverpool's Black Lives Matter protests said the city could lead the way in combating racism and creating a more equal society – although it still has a long way to go.

Chantelle Lunt, from Halewood, who recently set up the Merseyside BLM Alliance group on Facebook, told the ECHO: "We need to fight racism and kick it out. We kicked out the S*n and there are many things we as a city stand out for.

"We want to show what's done about racism here – to be a city that can show others how to become a loving and equal place – we're the city to do it, we've just got lost somewhere along the way."

Other aims include promoting black businessmen and women in the region, and highlighting companies that support black workers.

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Speaking at a protest held on the steps of St Luke's Church in the city centre this week, Chantelle explained why she set up the group and what she hopes to achieve.

She said: "I'm from Halewood – my friends, the people who surround me, are white and I'm married to a white man, they are the people to reach.

"I've had people get in touch with me saying 'I don't know what to say' to combat racism – so I set up a platform with Merseyside BLM Alliance and we're trying to engage different communities and create a space for allies.

Protesters on the steps of St. Luke's church on June 30

"This week we're covering what racism is and how does it manifest and people are sharing their stories and experiences of racism.

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"I hope loads of people will tell their stories and allies can feel safe to ask questions – we have this powerful group of people who are listening."

For Chantelle, the power of the Merseyside BLM Alliance and the Black Lives Matter movement is its inclusivity.

She said: "I want this to be inclusive for LGBT+, feminist and disability rights advocates to get together – and it's snowballing.

"When we were on the floor, the LGBT community helped us up. I went to a trans rights march recently – and people seeing me there have come today and who wouldn't otherwise have come."

Chantelle is also keen to highlight black businesses in Liverpool, and businesses that are working to further equality in the city.

She said: "We want to create a platform for black people as business people, and we want to hear about those people and businesses.

"There are also companies out there who are helping black people – we'd like them to get in touch with us and tell us what you're doing and we can tell the black community."

The focus on businesses and organisations in the city is also at the forefront for Buster Nugent, who held a week long protest at the gates of Princes Park in early June.

This was followed by a virtual vigil and an L8 Black Lives Matter march which Buster helped to organise and was attended by thousands of people convening at St George's Hall in a well-organised, peaceful and socially distanced protest and show of solidarity against racism.

Black Lives Matter protesters in Liverpool on June 30

Buster, who also organised Tuesday's protest at St Luke's, said: "We've got people working behind the scenes to look at organisations and companies in the city in terms of equality.

"The issue is a lot of organisations have equality policies, but the question is, are they implementing them?

"We're also trying to get more groups and alliances to come together. Everything's been really positive and there's a lot of people who are getting involved."

'It is about showing other disenfranchised black children that the opportunities are available'

Music photographer Billy Vitch was also at the protest, taking pictures of the event. He joined the Merseyside BLM Alliance after seeing a video Chantelle posted online about her experiences of racism and why she set up the alliance, and he is now one of the group's admins.

Billy told the ECHO: "I got involved after seeing Chantelle's video. My background is like Chantelle because I grew up in a predominately white area in Southport and had the same trials with that.

"I'm an event photographer who goes by the name of Billy Vitch and my photography has really took off in recent years.

"On the back of this, I noticed how few black people are involved in the media – for me it is about showing other disenfranchised black children that the opportunities are available and you can make it.

"Kids don't believe they can be an event photographer or work in the media because nobody is showing them there is a platform.

"I'm quite a dominant person and I've been going out and getting it done but I got into this aged 40 – imagine where I'd be now if at the age of 12 if I'd seen someone like me doing that and could see there was a career available for me."

Billy said a turning point for him was a meeting with other musicians, held over Zoom, where he was asked to name some black musicians.

He said: "I sat down and thought I hardly know anyone black in the industry – where is the black cultural music scene in Liverpool?

"I want to show the opportunities and build a platform so the kids don't have to get to the age of 40 before knowing they can do it – what if I had started young and had these aspirations, what if someone shows you that you can be what you want to be?

The protest was held at St. Luke's church

While Billy says racism is so entrenched the challenges are "complex", he believes education is the key to change.

Billy said: "It won't happen overnight – the situation here is so institutional and deeply rooted that it's nearly impossible to break.

"I think we need to look at what we teach in school. I've never met a racist child – it's what we've been taught – and I think if teachers will gives the right lessons, the problems wouldn't be as bad, or people would have the information to know and combat racism when they see it."

While many people passing by in cars were beeping their horns in a show of support for the protest, Billy spoke of a moment earlier in the evening when someone drove past shouting abuse.

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He said: "When they did that, I thought I feel embarrassed that I have to do this at all. This is not how I saw my life as a kid. Why in 2020 should I have to dedicate my life to this?

"Greta Thurnburg said recently 'you stole my childhood'. At first I wondered what she meant but then I realised what she was saying – she shouldn't have to be sitting at the table with world leaders explaining to them what they are doing is wrong.

"I shouldn't have to be here but I have no choice – I should be out having fun with no fear of prejudice but I'm here instead. It proves what massive change is needed."

Billy said he draws strength from the Merseyside BLM Alliance's inclusive agenda and agrees with Chantelle on the need for white people and allies from marginalised communities to come together in the fight for black lives.

He said: "One of the biggest problems is when we speak up people who aren't racist feel attacked, feel like we're blaming them.

"I'd say – you're not the problem, but you are part of the solution – it's a society problem.

"People need to listen, they need to decide what side of history they want to be on and stop being scared to stand up and say something.

"There's a massive thread of fear, a feeling of guilt that isn't theirs – if you feel that you have to ask yourself why – a lot of it is to do with not standing up."

As an example, Billy speaks about how comments on social media can often feel drowned out by reactionary, racist or right-wing views, even though many in the city wouldn't agree with them.

He said: "Social media comments are very damaging – sometimes it feels like there is more abuse than not.

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"I think that unless white people are making this argument with and for us it stays a divide and keeps it a black issue.

"I had a white friend who told me about how she's changed someone's mind who was saying 'all lives matter'. when I engaged with the person they only saw an angry black man, but when she spoke with them, she was able to change their opinion.

"When other white people start saying stuff too, change happens. It's not our fight – it's a humanity fight."