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West Midlands Youth Combined Authority call for end to white male dominance in region's leaders

Youth Combined Authority members Eman Mowatt (centre) and Olivia Agbe (bottom right) address members of the WMCA board

A group of young people have called on the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) to end the dominance of ‘male, pale and stale’ leaders in the region and to promote more equality.

A group of young people have called on the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) to end the dominance of ‘male, pale and stale’ leaders in the region and to promote more equality.

Speaking at Friday’s (Jul 24) WMCA board meeting, Youth Combined Authority (YCA) members Eman Mowatt and Olivia Agbe read out a joint-letter from the group on the issue of inequality and racism in the region.

In the open letter the YCA calls on positive action to be used so local leaders represent the region’s diversity, while also asking local leaders to learn more about the causes of, and effects of, structural racism on people. The YCA also used their letter to call for inequalities in health and education to be addressed.

And, speaking at the meeting, youth representative Olivia Agbe said that it was important that the message of Black Lives Matter doesn’t get lost as time goes on.

“It is not enough to say #blacklivesmatter because this is not a moment, this is a movement,” she said.

“One month on, we are very aware that the focus on Black Lives Matter is beginning to fade, and mainstream and social media are already moving on. Our hope is that you will be able to keep the need to address structural racism and disadvantage high on the region’s agenda, and work with other decision-makers to translate increased awareness into meaningful action.

“Black communities have waited for centuries for their voices to be heard, and although significant changes are being made, simultaneously the same patterns of inequality are still being repeated. We have seen health inequalities exposing the vulnerability of black, Asian and other mixed communities to the coronavirus pandemic, and how our country’s slow response to the Windrush scandal has left many families with a tainted view of the United Kingdom.

“The West Midlands is one of the most diverse regions in this country, however, structural inequalities create conflict and division in our society, and we need to better understand the root causes of racial disadvantage, and the adverse impact it has on our young people and under-represented communities.

“We need to recognise the impact on a person’s confidence, self-worth and ability to grow, the impact on their faith and belief in the region that they live in, if decision-makers fail to resolve the issues that significantly shape their lives.

“We need to reassure our citizens that ethnic inequalities are unjustifiable. Civic leaders need to proactively address structural inequalities to ensure and echo the WMCA vision of building a healthier, happier, more prosperous and better connected West Midlands. To get there, decision-makers in the West Midlands need to know what institutional racism actually means, how it looks, tastes and feels for young people in our region. My question is – do you know? 

“Structural inequality and institutional racism mean that no matter how well you do in your life, you do not have the agency to define your own identity or success. Once this is accepted and understood, focus can turn to what really matters.

“Representation is important. Young black people need powerful black role models to look up to. We strongly believe that diverse representation cannot be reduced to a tick-box exercise. People need to be given a seat at the table for a reason.

“In a region as diverse as ours, it is genuinely concerning that the make-up of our council chambers can still be described as ‘male, pale, and stale’. “

The letter goes on to ask for four things – these being positive action by public bodies to improve representation in leadership roles; for current political leaders to undertake bias training; for political leaders to engage with young black people, and for these same leaders to build trust and accountability by being honest about the diversity issues facing their organisation.

And Eman Mowatt, who also spoke at the meeting, believes these measures are essential for leaders to start having real conversations about equality and diversity.

“By sharing these ideas we hope to inspire action that will bring forth change for black communities in the West Midlands,” she said.

“At the very least we hope that you will be able to use this letter to start a conversation with other decision makers in the region. We have written this letter because we care, because we have to, because we have little kids we need to protect – because the time for change is now, and our anger only represents a fraction of the pain that black lives have had to endure for far too long.

“Anger that should be used as a catalyst to create necessary change in the West Midlands.”

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