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Home > News and views > A message from our Chair – June 2020

A message from our Chair – June 2020

From Professor James Raven, LittD FBA FSA, Chair, English-Speaking Union:

The English-Speaking Union, in line with its founding principles, will add its own particular voice to the millions of those expressing shame and grief at the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many other victims of racist violence in the United States. As our American friends have declared, these most recent atrocities committed in the name of law enforcement highlight, yet again, the unequal treatment of a country’s citizens. But they also make us look to our own society as well as to discrimination in so many parts of the world where injustice and its justification are prevalent. With a century of achievement and reputation behind it, the ESU uniquely bridges support for improved communication and the promotion of speaking and listening skills with a commitment to civil education and global cultural exchange. We are committed to equip young people, nationally and internationally, and particularly those in less advantaged communities, with the communication skills and confidence to contribute fully to society, to reach their potential, and thereby help to combat ignorance, divisiveness and intolerance. Such a commitment embraces free expression and peaceful protest. Free speech underpins our democracy and the ideal of a decent and just society.

Vast inequalities are more than ever in plain view. As a charity committed to promoting speech and a transformative global exchange of ideas, we, along with other charities and institutions are behoven to look at ourselves, taking guidance from our own past and our founding mission, but also unflinchingly to examine our history and record in order that we recommit to action that will change lives and improve the lot of those mis- and un-represented in our society. To review our past and judge some past members and benefactors of the ESU by modern, more enlightened standards is of course anachronistic and yet it also impels us to ensure that we work to exemplify the best of our history and those founding principles which carry us forward. Today, we can be proud that the beneficiaries of our work are more than ever those who are among the least privileged in our society. We have an exemplary record in working to unlock potential among all in our society. And yet there is much much more to do, especially in reaching those young people, schools and teachers who not only benefit most from our activities and our advocacy, but also from whom we all benefit most by being given new perspectives and new challenges. And although the diversity of those working for our charity has continued to widen, black, Asian and minority ethnic people remain underrepresented among our members, trustees and staff. We need to work to change that.

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