Roy Campbell says the “greatest voice comes from young people.”
Campbell, a Surrey resident, wrote a letter to the Surrey Now-Leader about his “unique perspective and experience” as a biracial man who has faced racism.
The Now-Leader spoke with Campbell Friday (June 5), as protests and marches in honour of George Floyd, who died while being restrained by police in Minneapolis, took place around the world.
“They are there making a difference and I am with them all the way,” said Campbell.
“We’re all learning as this moves along now. I think we’re in a state of transition. I hope we’re in a state of transition more than ever, even more than the ‘60s with Martin Luther King (Jr.) and all the marches and the deaths that proceeded that,” Campbell said.
“I hope this is a turning point, and not one of those, ‘OK, let’s go back to where we were,’ and all the deaths that have been highlighted, just fade away.”
He believes the difference now is that people have cellphones to document the racist acts and “show the world that there is injustice out there.”
Campbell was born in Manchester to his white mother from Liverpool and his Jamaican father.
At five years old, he and his parents sailed to Jamaica where they lived for 10 years before moving back to the U.K. There, racism wasn’t a problem for Campbell, but was for his mother.
“It was devastatingly hard for her to deal with racism. My unique perspective of being biracial, living in a black country and living in a white country, and I can see both sides — to a certain extent — of the fence.”
Then they moved back to England, where the neighbourhood wasn’t so inviting. A petition “to get the black family out,” was launched, and his family moved to a different community to build a business. Campbell attended a nearby school that was “99 per cent white.”
There, he was met with daily beatings by school-yard gangs.
“That was because of the colour of my skin,” said Campbell, adding that he had no protection, no after-school programs to avoid the gangs. So, he joined one of the gangs who let him, and he grew up in “avoiding” the police.
“For me, it was all about being accepted … when you’re a young kid and you’re different, racism, it destroys your soul.”
Campbell is now a youth worker in the Delta School District, helping at-risk kids – a job he’s had for the past 27 years.
“The young people are powerful. Our kids in our school, I tell each one of them they have the opportunity to change the world. I think you’ve got to say it over and over and over and over before they start to believe it.”
But it can’t be a one-off.
“Because if you don’t get loud … George Floyd is just going to get swept under the carpet again, and there’s going to be another black person, there’s going to be another Indigenous person getting hurt, there’s going to be another racial attack.”
“If it’s a one-off, people are waiting for you to quiet down. They put the file in the back of their cabinet, and they move on with their policies. If you want the government to change, you’ve got to be loud, and you’ve got to insist and demand change.”
Campbell added that he also wants people when they go home from the marches and protests, “to stop and take a deep look at their inner biases.”
“We can hold placards up and say this matters, that matters, but at the end of the day, it’s here inside of us that truly matters. How we treat each other when no one’s watching … We’ve got to stop and hold ourselves accountable and just make some adjustments about how we talk about people, how we treat people, how we’re making jokes about people, whether it be sexism, homophobia, racism. We’ve all personally got to take responsibility and also hold people accountable.”
One of the best decisions Campbell ever made was leaving the UK and moving to the Lower Mainland – but to think Canada isn’t home to racism would be inaccurate. He’s been the target of “subtle” racism, and felt tension when he’s the only visible minority.
“I think Vancouver is a little bit more accepting. I think we do have racism here but it seems to be more of a subtle kind of racism. It’s not in-your-face kind of racism. I think people say more (ethnic) jokes about people.”
Because the Lower Mainland has a smaller, visible black community than the rest of the country and across the border, Campbell thinks “we’re lacking a lot of black leaders, black perspective.”
“I think the black community here needs to hear more of people of colour, such as myself,” said Campbell, a public speaker who presented at TedX Bear Creek Park in 2019
“How did I get from the place of where I was to where I am? Because I really hated the police, without a doubt, based on my younger experiences. Now, I have the utmost respect for them.”
He said that a lot of kids need to know, “How do you make that transition of hatred based on your experience? What is it that we can do to live a more productive and safer life?
Where can they go when they feel accused, harrassed or any sort of injustice.
“Can we go to a white community leader? Will they understand what we’re dealing with?”