Chris Burns Profile

While most of the other students on the trip to London in 2012 did their research in the British Library, Chris Burns was out on the streets of an area in South London known for its historical and cultural controversy: Brixton.

In 1981, Brixton erupted into a weekend-long riot fueled by racial tension between the police and the community that rocked the area and left over 270 individuals injured, over 50 cars burned and 82 people arrested. Sources speculate that as many as 5,000 people participated in the riots. Chris’ project explored why the riots happened, and how the riots changed the climate of that area.

What Chris found in Brixton was overwhelming. By focusing on education, discrimination, racial awareness, police brutality and lack of leadership (from the community and the police department), Chris was able to illustrate why the riots happened, and how the riots could happen again.

While the subject of Chris’ project involved an incendiary part of history, Chris felt an immediate connection in Brixton. Just by being in the area, Chris accessed an area of research not available to many other students.

“I found lots of different things,” Chris said. “I had over 100 primary sources of newspapers, talking to people in the library, just walking around. It was a very welcoming environment. I saw a lot of improvements, but there is still a long way to go.”

During the four week trip to London, Chris spent only two days in the British Library. The rest of his time was spent in the Brixton library or on the streets. In the library, Chris accessed volumes of newspapers that were hard copies and not yet digitized. On the streets, he recorded audio and video interviews with locals and first-hand witnesses who lived through the riots. The experience, Chris believes, was invaluable to his project.

“Where would I get those sources?” he asked. “Everything would be secondary. I had three volumes of newspapers with hundreds of primary sources. I had first-hand accounts. It’s still very fresh on people’s minds.”

The controversy that is behind Chris’ project and Brixton is also representative of what Chris loved most about London: diversity. The first thing that stood out to Chris about London was the myriad of cultures that exist together in one space. Chris is a Savannah, Tenn. native who, until his trip to London in 2012, had never traveled abroad.

“London was great. Being around all those different cultures was amazing. It’s very different from being in the South where there’s only a few types of people. It’s so diversified there, and that’s what I loved the most about it.”

The thought of traveling didn't't’t unnerve Chris as much as being conspicuous did.

“I was more nervous about fitting into the culture – not sticking out like a sore thumb. I tried to make people feel comfortable around me. People were intrigued with me being an African American. One individual actually approached me and asked how it was different being an African American in London.”

Because Chris loved the diversity London, the melting pot of Brixton became his favorite place.

“There's a stereotype that only black people live there, but I saw a ton of culture,” he said. “It was amazing. It's not like that. I wish that a lot of other students could have come with me and experienced that energy. It was a community. It was a home.”

And his experience has broadened his horizons in a way he didn't't’t expect.

“I felt like I took a step forward going to London,” he said. “I did reach some part of expectation that Dr. P and Dr. B had for me. It made me feel good as a scholar. There were mistakes, but I grew from it. It just felt great. Coming back, my confidence was up. I feel like I am a provider for my family, but now I feel like I'm ready. I'm ready to graduate and ready to see what I can do.”