“I focus on the positive because we have to get justice.”

Zara Rehman, 14, from Middlesbrough, talks to The Tees Online about race, equality and keeping an open mind…

George Floyd. The name that was on everyone’s lips, uttered, chanted, yelled. On the 25th of March, I woke up to a vile video and I watched in horror. A cop knelt on his neck, three more officers held him down, my stomach felt uneasy. His pleas, his yells, his cries for his deceased mother, pain rushed down his body. “I can’t breathe!” he yelled, his final words left lingering with us. Protesters took to the streets, demanding justice, for George Floyd and not long after, justice for Breonna Taylor.

My name is Zara Rehman, I’m 14 and from Middlesbrough. All I could think about was George Floyd’s death. My heart hurt for him, his family and all the other black men and women who were murdered in police custody. I signed petitions but I still felt helpless so I went to one of the first Black Lives Matter protests in Middlesbrough and stood with everyone. Hearing everyone speak, inspired me to do more. Seeing people protest in America, London and Newcastle, it also inspired me to help raise awareness in our small area and take further action. Things needed to change, in the UK and globally.

I found a big piece of cardboard and painted the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ on it. I went out alone on the side of a road and held it up for people to see, even if it made somebody smile, or even just consider the fact that black lives do matter. I hoped for this to make an impact in Middlesbrough. On the first day I was sprayed with water and a couple of weeks later someone tried to spit on me. I focused on the positive because we had to get justice.

At first I was alone but everyday more people joined us. ITV, the Gazette, other news outlets and radio stations, interviewed me and other protestors. This helped spread awareness that racism does exist in the UK, it has for hundreds of years. Every Wednesday we stand outside busy roads and protest peacefully. Cars would beep, fists raised and there were people who shouted “all lives matter” and “white lives matter”.

Let me explain what we mean when we say “black lives matter”. Of course “all lives matter” no one is saying ONLY black lives matter. Black people are being killed because of the colour of their skin and solely for this reason. There hasn’t been an instance where white people have been killed because of the colour of their skin.

Activists at a Black Lives Matter Protest in Middlesbrough

At the moment all lives aren’t mattering if black people are being victims of police brutality. Example: my cat was dying and she needed help and attention. You bring your cat and say “all cat lives matter so treat my cat too”. See how ridiculous it sounds? The black community needs help. White people aren’t suffering and never have suffered because of their skin colour.
As a white person, do you have to fear for your life when you go to the shop? Fear you’ll never make it home? No, that is white privileged. Black people always have to be wary of abuse or even death wherever they go.

The problem is also in the system. Schools aren’t teaching us the truth about the British empire.
The Metropolitan police are four times as likely to use force against black people.
In the UK, black women are five times more likely to die due to pregnancy-related issues than her white counterpart! Asian women are two times more likely to die due to pregnancy-related issues than a white woman! This is such a huge number of coloured women dying and for what reason? Because of systemic racism in the healthcare system, women of colour are not being treated equally and are being denied service.

Black lives matter. We need to fight for another human’s rights, our brothers and sisters. I’ve learned to speak out against racism whenever it’s present, it’s the first step to becoming an ally. Don’t stay quiet when a friend makes a racist remark, call them out! I have learned that keeping an open mind helps you understand other people that might have differences whether it’s cultural, religious, or ethnic. In and beyond Teesside I think we create a better future by voting for leaders that aren’t ignorant. We need leaders that help increase opportunities for black people, and investigate systemic racism in work places, schools and hospitals.

To create a better future we need it to be mandatory for schools to teach black history, teach the truth about British colonialism. Additionally, bringing up children to recognise and be anti-racist is extremely important. Teaching children at a young age a simple understanding of racism and discrimination will help. No child is born with hatred in their heart. Together we can make a difference!