George Floyd’s Death And The Lives It Changed: 'Racists inspire me to keep going'

ITV News Correspondent Sangita Lal reports from Bristol

A year on from the murder of George Floyd, ITV News has been checking in with those who came into prominence for their actions and activism following his killing, as part of our series George Floyd’s Death And The Lives It Changed.

In one swift, instinctive moment, Jen Reid became an unwitting symbol of Britain's Black Lives Matter protests. Demonstrators in Bristol toppled a statue of slave trader Edward Colston last June, enabling Ms Reid, aged 50, to scale the empty plinth and raise her fist into a black power pose.

Her husband snapped a picture, it went viral and the following month a resin replica of Ms Reid was secretly placed onto the plinth. Bristol City Council eventually brought it down. Ms Reid and Marc Quinn, the statue's creator, are now selling it to fundraise for a non-profit.

Her lookalike no longer commands Bristol city centre, but Ms Reid remains a face of a national movement. Ms Reid spoke to ITV News about how her day-to-day has been impacted a year on from Mr Floyd's murder.

It’s coming up to a year since George Floyd was tragically killed. What were your initial feelings on hearing about/seeing that footage?

I really made a conscious effort not to see that video. It sickens my stomach and makes me angry. It really did have an impact on me. I’ve never attended a march or a protest in my life, but this is something that I felt really compelled to do. It was great to see Bristol, 10,000 people of all different colours, shapes and sizes, taking to the streets and marching in unity.

You came into prominence so suddenly following Mr Floyd’s death and the ensuing protests. What has the past year been like as a result?

It’s a shame that I couldn’t be faceless, because as I’ve always said, it’s not actually about me. It wasn’t just me, many other people got up there. But when my husband initially took the photo, it was my silhouette with my fist raised. So it represented all underrepresented people.

Ms Reid on the words that encouraged her to continue campaigning after the BLM protests

My life has changed tremendously. I remember having conversations with a really good friend of mine and he said “Jen, you can’t just do something like this and then go back to normal’ve got young boys and girls looking at you, as if to say, 'what next?'”. That sparked something in me to do more. When the statue is sold, the proceeds of that will go to [diverse education non-profit] Cargo Classrooms. I’ve been speaking to various publishers regarding a book deal, I’ve been going into schools in Bristol to talk about the statue. For me, it's taking up this mantle and using my platform to speak to the younger generation. It’s my best gig.

During the past year, your image has been shared and celebrated by many. Have you received any negative attention?

Oh, there’s been loads! I think I’m the best girl for the job because for people who I don’t know, all the comments they make, it’s water off a duck's back.

The photo of Jen atop the plinth that inspired the statue Credit: Jen Reid

What impact, if any, has Mr Floyd’s death and the BLM protests had in Britain?

I think for the younger generation, they’re now able to call out racism when they see it. I think people are more inclined to address the issue there and then. People are thinking a lot more about what they’re saying and doing.

A lot of big brands are getting behind Black Lives Matter. To me, this is all pigeon feed. I’m not here to pick up scraps because a lot more needs to be done and we’re going to keep on doing it.

What compels you to continue speaking out about racism and racial inequalities?

All the racist people who leave comments on anything relevant to Jen Reid and the statue. Those people drive me. Is it exhausting? You know what, I’m really long in the tooth and I’ve been me since day dot. So I’ll just continue to be me. The only thing that’s changed is that I now have a platform. So I’ll just keep going and keep pushing.

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