Talk is cheap: how I turned words into action

Activist Imarn Ayton talks turning words into action and the impact it can have...

Activist Imarn Ayton
(Image credit: Getty Images)

I have a weakness for impulse-buying clothes, most of which end up stuffed in a drawer or languishing in the bowels of my wardrobe, never to see the light of day. One such item of clothing was a five-year-old red crop top, emblazoned with the white printed slogan: "Talk is cheap". 

If only I knew back when I bought it how significant that little red top would turn out to be...

Activist Imarn Ayton

(Image credit: Imarn Ayton)

May 2020 was the start of an incredible journey for me - one that began with me going out to get toothpaste and getting swept into a protest chanting "Black Lives Matter" instead, following George Floyd's tragic killing. One that turned me into an activist from that moment on, changing my whole life and culminating in me organising the biggest Black Lives Matter protest in London.

Imarn Ayton and John Boyega

(Image credit: Getty Images)

On Saturday 6th June 2020, right before the first protest I had ever organised, I was frantically rummaging through my wardrobe in search of an appropriate top to wear. That's when I stumbled upon my old red “Talk is cheap” crop top. I'm not sure if I found the top or if the top found me, but I instinctively knew that it was right.

Later that day, moments before making a speech, I stood on a pillar at Parliament Square looking out at a sea of thousands of people protesting. I looked down at the wording on my five-year-old red crop top and was suddenly hit with a stark realisation: The momentum and enthusiasm would inevitably fade and the protestors would eventually disappear. 

I knew however that I would not simply fade away - I was now in this for the long haul.

Imarn Ayton protesting

(Image credit: Getty Images)

During the 2020 protests, I appeared on TV and News segments, held live debates and made bold speeches (including alongside John Boyega and in front of Madonna). I soon got a reputation for eloquence and presenting passionate and cogent arguments - people wanted to hear what I had to say and listened.

By the time the protests had all ended and the hype surrounding Black Lives Matter had dissipated, I knew that my words had helped raise awareness of racism and institutionalised racism. But I was also acutely aware of the fact that the time for words was over. If I was going to talk the talk, then I had to walk the walk and those three simple words on the red crop top now took on a whole new meaning.

Imarn Ayton and John Boyega

(Image credit: Getty Images)

I'm a big believer in writing down your goals and desires, so I wrote “Make Activism into a career” on a huge poster and stuck it on my wall. This became my little red crop top - a daily reminder for me that "Talk is cheap", and that so far I had done a lot of talking but now had to move into the action phase of my journey.

If I wanted to build awareness, change minds and shift paradigms, then I couldn’t just talk and complain about Institutionalised racism, I had to actually do something about it.

There were significant barriers - mainly relating to my lack of experience. My CV included a variety of jobs, from acting and teaching drama, to managing bars and restaurants, but nothing in relation to anti-racism per se. I did however have skills in communication, teaching, organising and inspiring others - skills that actually proved invaluable in turning my dreams into a reality. I had to be open to utilising old skills and be willing to learn new ones. And, importantly, I had to be patient.

It took me months of searching day and night through hundreds of job adverts, but eventually I found the perfect role and worked tirelessly to get it, which takes us to now.

I am an Antiracism specialist, providing antiracism training and guidance for a prominent UK University, giving me the unique opportunity to educate, galvanise and inspire.

Through this job, I am not only using my words, but taking action and making real lasting change.

Imarn Ayton giving a speech

(Image credit: Getty Images)

One of my first duties was organising The Black History Month events for the University. I knew exactly what I needed to do: build awareness, change minds and shift paradigms through creating a programme that focuses on four specific themes: “Black History”, Black Futures, Anti-racism and Cultural Appreciation.

Not only has my new role allowed me to network and connect with staff and students - it has also firmly set the wheels in motion to create an anti-racist culture across the University.

Imarn Ayton giving a speech

(Image credit: Getty Images)

This new stage of my journey is far from a walk in the park. Entering a new and highly complex work environment isn’t easy, especially when my role is effectively a "disrupter". One who will need to help people talk openly about racism, while also helping them face their own biases and prejudices. 

It's hard work and it would have been easier to put down my megaphone when others did too, but the action that I'm taking now will have a much bigger impact - something that my little red crop top reminded me of years ago.

In short, "Talk is cheap" - and easy, but "doing" is a whole other story, and both are necessary to make real lasting change.

Let this article be your metaphorical red crop top - your reminder of the importance of turning your words into action and the push you needed to make it happen.

It's never too late.

Imarn Ayton

Imarn is a writer, presenter and activist from South London who came to prominence during a Black Lives Matter protest in May 2020. She went on to organise several protests including one in London with 20,000 people on Saturday 6th June.

Ayton has become a motivational speaker and diversity thought leader. Images of her during the protests captured by British Vogue photographer (Misan Harriman) have been featured in media across the world. She has written for British Vogue, UK GQ and The Face magazine.