For Dr Carver Anderson, the cemetery represents equality. The theologian and pastor, who works with families touched by serious violence and crime in Birmingham through his charity Bringing Hope, says he has buried many young men. He finds that death is a great leveller.
“I go to the cemetery, I see a diverse group of people, but they are included in the same space, so to speak. They are equal,” he says.
“As for me, as a human being, why am I not treated with love, care, and respect? As a black male, not many people say ‘I love you’ to me. But Martin Luther King said that love is a very potent expression, that includes, it absorbs, it cares.”
Anderson was one of a group of people from Birmingham and the Midlands who shared what equality means to them at a special HuffPost UK Listening Circle event at Edgbaston Community Centre, as part of HuffPost Listens.
The stories shared covered equality from the perspective of race, religion, gender, health, employment and disability, and many were deeply personal.
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Aimee Challenor: ‘I’m turning this negative thing into a positive’
Aimee Challenor, a 20-year-old trans woman who is the equalities spokesperson for the Green Party, described her battle to succeed despite her diagnosis with Oppositional Defiance Disorder, which manifests as defiant or hostile behaviour towards adults as a child.
“I was often seen as a troublemaker and whatnot, questioning authority. But now I’m doing politics I’m turning this negative thing, where people have said it will get in my way and I won’t be able to do things and achieve, into a positive.
“I’m using it in my politics as a tool to hold people to account.”
Vanley Burke: ′I felt like we as a people should write our own history’
For Vanley Burke, the veteran photographer who has covered the black population of Birmingham for decades, equality is about telling your own story: “When I look at the way our history as people from the Caribbean and from the African diaspora in particular has been recorded over the years, images and articles referencing this community were always negative and derogatory.
“That wasn’t the life that I was living and I felt like we as a people should write our own history. History is normally written by the victor and we have rarely ever had the opportunity to make comment on our presence.”
Alicja Kaczmarek: ′We’re getting into a vicious cycle’
Alicja Kaczmarek, the founder of the Polish Expats Association which empowers Polish migrants, said Eastern Europeans, who are among the most recent groups to immigrate to Birmingham, were barely represented in the city.
“We’re getting into this vicious cycle where Eastern European communities are very isolated - they do not participate but also they do not feel welcome. We have huge populations with massive issues of homelessness, modern day slavery and domestic violence, and now the development of far right movements.
“There is not a lot of acceptance, so we have a lot of tension in areas where there are a lot of Asian and Caribbean communities and the Eastern europeans are the new communities and going through the same thing. We’re almost not learning.”
Rico Johnson-Sinclair: ‘not all of our stories match’
Rico Johnson-Sinclair, a programmer of queer cinema who also works for a Birmingham LGBT group, agreed that different groups working together is essential.
“The key to equality for me is intersectionality. I think it’s important for us to keep our own identities, because not all of our stories match. We do need to keep separate but to work together to find a way to leverage that to become equal.”
Johnson-Sinclair, who has written about his experiences of psychosis and managing this at work, said: “A lot of my experiences have shaped me into the person that I am and I wouldn’t have that any other way. There’s a strength in having these experiences and talking about them, so that the next generation doesn’t have to go through what we went through.”
Daniel Sturley: ′It’s easy for people to make snap judgements.′
Daniel Sturley, a person with autism who works for Autism West Midlands, said a lack of understanding from others can lead to inequality. “Society just doesn’t tolerate people that are different from the seething norm. People with autism can present with what can be very easily interpreted as anti social demeanours: they way they speak can be quite monotonous, they find more than a two way conversation very difficult.
“They find a lot of the things that neurotypical people find perfectly normal actually quite challenging. It’s very easy for people to make a lot of snap judgements.”
Amahra Spence: ′wealth, class, race and geography have a direct link to opportunity’
Amahra Spence, who founded artist-led group MAIA, said several factors underpinned inequality for artists in Birmingham. “A report came out last year that said that artists earn less then £10,000 a year on average, and if you take out London it’s closer to £5,000. In a city that is proud of its artists, how can we have a conversation that isn’t about wealth, class, race and geography, when they have a direct link to what is possible in terms of opportunity?”
Through MAIA she has set up business groups addressing issues like insecure work and high rents, to make living as an artist more sustainable. “For example, for artists who are parents, if childcare isn’t included the the thinking that’s doing a massive disservice to a big part of the population.”
Salma Yaqoob: ′How can we generally not put barriers up?′
Salma Yaqoob, an activist, psychotherapist and founder of the Respect party, said that an experience of appearing on BBC Question Time showed her that inequality can be perpetuated “even by well-meaning people.”
In a discussion of the Afghanistan war, she says she was told by a panelist that she was “a good spokesperson for your people.”
Yaqoob, who is Muslim, said: “It just makes you question that you think I’m not one of your people. I’m here speaking as a British citizen, as a Brummie, but I know really [the remark was] ‘You’re speaking on behalf of those foreign people.’ How can we generally not put barriers up between ourselves and just hear each other as human beings?”
Sukhi Kaur: ′I do worry about equality going forward’
“For me, equality is about everyone’s right to live the life they want without obstacles being put in their way simply because of who or what they are,” said Sukhi Kaur, a Sikh woman who has a terminal illness and spoke of her experience of health inequality. “It’s about having equal access to resources based not on want but on need.
“But I do worry about equality going forward. I’m noticing that people are finding more and more barriers to put even during the most simple exchange. There’s more suspicion and maybe some parts of the popular media have a part to play in that.
“On a more positive note I do think some sections of society have more equality than they ever did. As a brown, turban-wearing Sikh woman I’m much more accepted and equal to my peers than my mother and aunts ever were.”
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