MORE than 10,000 people took part in a peaceful, physically distanced, Black Lives Matter protest in Brighton recently.

It was moving, it was powerful and it made me proud to be the leader of our city.

The protest was one of hundreds of demonstrations taking place across the world in memory of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer.

The Black Lives Matter movement has rightly shone a spotlight on the legacy of colonial statues and street names in the UK and elsewhere in the world. It is important that we reflect on Brighton and Hove’s Georgian history which meant much of the investment that led to its growth came from Caribbean sugar plantations and the enslavement of people.

It is troubling that many of the city’s buildings exist because of that brutal trade. I was shocked to learn from research done at the University of Brighton that 69 slave-owners and former slave-owners had a Brighton or Hove address between 1800 and 1880. Most of them – unlike the freed slaves – received substantial financial compensation on abolition of slavery in the 1830s.

Today we pride ourselves on being a diverse City of Sanctuary that people from all backgrounds can call home. In that spirit, the council is reviewing all plaques, monuments, statues and street names on public land to ensure that we are celebrating legacies that reflect our city’s values.

We will talk to our local black, Asian and minority ethnic (Bame) communities, the council’s BME Workers Forum and historians to ensure we fully understand our complex heritage. Based on that, we will work collaboratively to commission new street art installations which celebrate Bame communities.

One monument we can reflect on with pride – thanks to the research, fundraising and restoration work done by the Brighton and Hove Black History Project - is the gravestone of Thomas Highflyer in Woodvale Cemetery. A freed slave from east Africa, Thomas was rescued from a dhow by the Royal Navy in 1866 and settled in Brighton.

He died 150 years ago this week at the age of 12, almost certainly from one of the many common diseases of the period. It is an important legacy for our city that the family who gave him lodgings in Kemp Town ensured that he attended school at St Mark’s in Whitehawk.

Records uncovered by Brighton and Hove Black History Project show that the headmaster encouraged other pupils to give him a warm welcome. In tribute to the memory of Thomas Highflyer and those who loved and supported him in such extraordinary and undoubtedly traumatic circumstances I want the discussions about monuments and street names to ensure our city is associated with freedom and sanctuary, not oppression and bigotry.

Please contact me directly if you are aware of any statues, monuments, street or building names that you think are a cause for concern.

The same culture of welcome is at the heart of the online events being held in the city to mark Refugee Week, which took place from June 15 to 21. This is a UK-wide festival celebrating the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees.

Refugee Week gives us an opportunity to celebrate the resilience, determination and skills brought to the city by those arriving here after long and dangerous journeys. As a designated City of Sanctuary, Brighton and Hove is committed to offer shelter and safety to refugees and asylum seekers.

Local groups have been working hard to ensure that refugees in the city are given information and support, which is even more difficult amid a global pandemic, and I’d like to thank everyone involved in that effort. Check out Sanctuary on Sea’s website for comedy, music, exhibition, talks and even a writing competition.

As a council, we should be a leader for the rest of the city – so we will be talking to the judiciary, to schools, to the NHS and to business – all of the institutions in the city and bringing them together to demand change.

We need to be an actively anti-racist council, and proactively challenge racial inequality.

As a predominantly white council we must recognise what that we cannot fully know the impact or reality of discrimination and harm that we do not experience and see.

People from all communities must have a direct voice in decisions that affect their lives. Many Bame residents have told us of the challenges and barriers they face. We could all do more to help – from educating ourselves on black history and our colonial past to using the power we have in everyday decisions to make change happen. It is time to create a new history, that reflects today’s world.

We each have our part to play in ensuring that change works positively for everyone in Brighton and Hove.