Illustrations by Hannah Robinson

In her first article for The Broad, Livi Empson interviews prominent Black Lives Matter activist Darcy Bourne over a FaceTime and a cup of tea.

It was during the Black Lives Matter protests in London that a photo was taken which would change Darcy Bourne’s life. “My parents almost didn’t let me go” she reminisced with a youthful playfulness. Fate was undoubtedly to play its part in the events of that day…

She was standing outside the British Embassy, waiting for a friend, when a street photographer snapped her picture. Wearing a bandana that a stranger had given her on the tube and holding her backpack, she held a sign that read: ‘Why is ending racism even a debate?’ The message was poignant; she had communicated a thought that would later inspire others.

L1790533.JPG
Photograph of Darcy Bourne taken by Misan Harriman at Black Lives Matter protests in London in June 2020

That photographer, it would soon conspire, was Misan Harriman. Despite his relatively small following at the time, this photograph was to serve as a catalyst to his global success. “He was taking photos of a lot of the protestors,” Bourne modestly recalled, “and it was only a matter of chance that he spotted me on the pavement.” She took his details and he promised to send the photographs over.

One of the photographs is unrivalled in its power; it is no surprise that it was this that went viral. Bourne looks at the camera, locking eyes with the viewer, daring them to challenge her passionate proposition. The ‘why’ reverberates in the grasp of her knuckles; the strength in her body language — she is simply captivating. In the background, someone raises their fist in emblem of black power.

Within hours of Harriman sharing his photo on Instagram, the image had gone viral. Celebrities and public figures— from Gigi Hadid to P-Diddy to Lewis Hamilton —were reposting it on their feeds. “My phone wouldn’t stop buzzing,” Bourne said, still retaining an air of disbelief. “Romeo Beckham was my favourite.” Although she giggled with a boyish charm, it was evident that the overwhelming support she had received was still sinking in. On Instagram, a platform that regularly invites hate and criticism, the pleasant response to this message was and still is an attestation to its power.

“When Martin Luther King III reposted it, I LITERALLY died.”

Although the celebrity responses invited inevitable excitement, it says a lot about Bourne’s character that the most memorable message was not from a big-name star. Amongst the responses were stories of personal experiences and self-reflection: “The most touching, the one that made me think the most was a message I received from an older lady in Minnesota.” This lady had messaged Bourne, pledging to change her behaviour and educate herself. “I didn’t know I could have that effect on people”.

In the months since the photograph and its widespread reception, Darcy has maintained contact with Misan Harriman and as it turns out, they unwittingly grew up in the same town! Harriman visited Darcy at home several times throughout the summer and they shared their experiences of living in a predominantly white area. The photographer has since enjoyed recognition for his work, shooting Vogue’s September activist cover and continuing his support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

“BLM isn’t an organisation against the cops, it’s as simple as the statement itself,” Bourne said towards the end of our call, and this is certainly reiterated in the photograph. Only a couple of weeks ago, the original sold at Sotheby’s for a whopping ten thousand pounds, with many of the proceeds going to charitable organisations.

“When I started uni I didn’t want to be known as an activist, I wanted to make friends!”

Darcy started at Duke University this September and described her experiences playing hockey—a sport she noted is predominantly white. Since starting university, she has been using her platform to
continually promote change. Already, she has been interviewed by BBC, the Telegraph, the Guardian alongside many other media outlets, and there are plans underway to start her own website.

Her story is inspiring, and she really is one to watch!