THE FOUNDER of a Bradford organisation - which seeks to tackle radicalisation, grooming and child sexual exploitation - has encouraged "open dialogue" in the wake of George Floyd's death and the subsequent protests against racism and police brutality.

Sofia Mahmood, founder and director of Empowering Minds, says that racism is an "ongoing injustice" and that the protests are now more than just about the death of Mr Floyd.

Rather, they are about years of "systematic and institutional racism", which also exist in the UK and not just in America, she says. 

"I hear many people saying that George Floyd’s death is a US problem, but, as I have seen with my own work, racism and discrimination can be seen as much wider than that - including racism against migrants, minority groups, black communities and more", said Sofia, who is British-Pakistani.

"We have seen Philando Castile, Samuel DuBose, Breonna Taylor, Jimmy Mubenga, Rashan Charles, Edson da costa, Sarah Reed, Sheku Bayoh and several others killed. They were all victims of racial violence."

Of the eight names Sofia mentions, five - Jimmy Mubenga, Rashan Charles, Edson da costa, Sarah Reed and Sheku Bayoh - were black-British and died in the UK, in incidents involving police officers and authorities.

"We should not be living in a world where protests and riots have to take place to highlight the systematic and institutional racism that unfortunately exist in the world we live in", she adds.

Sofia also feels like racism is not a new problem.

"As black people across the world are shouting, racism is not new, it’s just getting filmed.

"We now live in a world where the power of technology and social media bring to light injustices, and I’m so glad they do, so we can see the bad but equally all the good in the world, in order to tackle it.

"George Floyd was killed because of the colour of his skin, but, we must acknowledge that this senseless and irresponsible act is unfortunately nothing new in our history.

"In 1963, Martin Luther King outlined his dream to combat long-standing racism. It has been six decades since he had that vision, and sometimes it feels like a struggle to see what has changed. Now is the time to listen and advocate for that change.

"There are many ways to combat racism. Protests, as we have seen, are one of them, to raise awareness and call for justice. But also to support on social media, sign petitions and donate to on-the-ground charities working with people affected by discrimination.

"It is incredible to see that, in just a few days, tens of thousands have signed the petition calling for books about racism in Britain to be included in the British National Curriculum, in order to educate the next generation on the realities of racism.

"I urge people, whether you are a community leader, teacher, politician, and activist or just passionate about tackling discrimination, to engage, educate yourself and inspire others to make change."

Sofia founded Empowering Minds in 2015. The Bradford-based organisation, through its Empowering Mothers Against Radicalisation programme, sees women from across the Bradford district come together to discuss the misconceptions they may have of each other's communities.

They also discuss how to spot the signs of radicalisation and grooming - whether it is by a religious extremist group, a far-right group, or by any other group - and encourage "difficult conversations" to take place, in order to improve community relations.

Sofia believes that these conversations are vital in the wake of the current situation.

"Now more than ever is time for an open dialogue and for difficult conversations, that may have been brushed aside before. We remain hopeful of bringing change, but must all examine our own behaviours and work together as a community to address the injustices faced by black people.

"We are seeing individuals and establishments taking overdue action, but this has to come from non-violent and positive efforts.

"At Empowering Minds, we do this and this is where we have seen change in thought processes and ideologies. There is such power in honest conversations, self-awareness and understanding our own thoughts and perceptions.

"This is what it means to be anti-racist – to acknowledge privilege and stand up for equality. I am proud to have seen that happen, through developing critical thinking and challenging stereotypes in the community, and its leaders locally and nationally know not to judge others by the colour of their skin, or external image. 

"Empowering Minds seeks to challenge and counter discrimination, find positive solutions and implement change. We believe that knowledge is key.

"It is vital we support the next generation with the tools to identify, prevent and overcome racism. We must foster a community that integrates, speaks openly and fights against division. 

"Over the last 19 years, I have worked to educate people on equality and diversity and have always felt there is need for active change. But, this can only happen from education, acceptance and challenging stereotypes.

"The racial profiling of people has created generalisations so entrenched within our society that we do not even realise it. But it fuels discrimination.

"People in power - please listen, hear the cry of victims, and learn from them so we can have a better future where no group is discriminated against and no lives are lost because of it."