Darcy Bourne embracing role model status with ‘great deal’ to do in racism fight

England Under-21 midfielder Darcy Bourne hopes to become the black role model she never had as an aspiring hockey player after a random “life-changing” event one year ago propelled her into the limelight.

Twelve months ago the teenager shot to fame after a picture of her, taken by photographer Misan Harriman, carrying a sign which read ‘Why is ending racism a debate?’ at a Black Lives Matter protest in London went viral.

Shared by numerous celebrities, including Lewis Hamilton and David Beckham, it even caught the attention of Martin Luther King III, the son of the American civil rights leader. It was also featured in Vogue magazine.

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It catapulted Bourne onto a global stage from where she was encouraged to continue her activism, which led to her setting up her ‘Beyond Our Game’ business which connects student athletes in minority communities with companies to help start their careers.

“That photo literally changed my life. From the day it went viral and was shared all over the world my perspective on life has changed. It’s been a really inspirational year for me,” Bourne told the PA news agency.

“I think a lot has happened in the last 12 months in terms of people are speaking about it and trying to make changes in terms of their perspective and attitude towards racism but unfortunately the question still stands.

“You still see acts of racism happening in the UK and US on a daily basis.

“Although there has been great progress made in certain areas I think there is a great deal more change to be made.”

Darcy Bourne takes the knee while wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt
England Under-21 hockey player Darcy Bourne, wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt, takes a knee before a match for Duke University, North Carolina (Duke Athletics Photography)

One specific area which needs addressing is in Bourne’s own sport.

Just four ethnically diverse women have become full internationals for England or Great Britain and in 2020 England Hockey was accused of having an “endemic race issue” by eight clubs from London, Birmingham, Leicester, Derby, Nottingham and Leeds.

While there is work undergoing to improve diversity, with England Hockey also supporting the ‘Stick It To Racism’ campaign last year, initiatives take time to bear fruit and England men’s and women’s squads participating in the latter stages of the EuroHockey Championships in Holland this week are both all-white.

Bourne, privately educated at Wellington College in Berkshire and playing for top club Surbiton, admits her progression through the ranks was far from the norm but hopes her new profile will pay dividends.

“I didn’t think about race or being the odd one out and didn’t feel the colour of my skin held me back in any way,” added the 19-year-old, who has become part of the Hockey Mentors initiative.

“But I can see how daunting it might be joining a sport where you look and feel out of place for a lot of younger players from minority backgrounds.

“Having role models who look like you, for any boy and girl, is so important.

“That is lacking in hockey with it being predominantly white. It is a problem England Hockey have been trying to tackle over the last year.

“I was quite lucky in that I grew up in a predominantly white area, went to a nice school that offered hockey and I happen to live near one of the best clubs in the country.

“I know my experience is not the same as a lot of black boys and girls over the country so I’m trying to use my platform to support those who I know haven’t been as fortunate as me.

Darcy Bourne hits the ball playing for Duke University
Bourne has just finished her first year at Duke University in North Carolina where she was named ACC Freshman Player of the Year (Duke Athletics Photography)

“Growing up I didn’t have black role models in hockey so my hope is if I continue to make it through the system I can maybe act as a role model for players coming up.”

Soon after shooting to fame Bourne enrolled at Duke University in North Carolina, an area of America which has had an historic race problem.

“When I chose Duke I didn’t think about the consequences that might be there because of the colour of my skin,” she said.

“But with events coming to the world’s attention I was a little bit worried about it and was warned by friends and family members to be careful out there and that is really saddening for me as I was warned simply because of the colour of my skin.

“Duke have been so supportive; we wear Black Lives Matter shirts in our games and they have supported me in everything I am doing more than I could have expected.

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“But when you go out into the ‘real’ world that’s when you really see it.

“There were times where, if I saw a cop, I was naturally scared and that was what social media and TV had taught me. My white friends and team-mates didn’t experience that.

“If we were going on a long drive they would drive as they knew there was less chance of them being pulled over than if it was me.

“Those sort of things were a constant reminder that life isn’t the same for black and white people in America at all.”