Baroness Doreen Lawrence has always said young people and education are key to eliminating racism in the UK.
So the former Chancellor of De Montfort University, Leicester (DMU) - whose son Stephen was murdered by racists in an unprovoked attack in 1993 – was moved to see two teenagers from Leicester speak passionately about what they are doing in Stephen’s name to fight for equality and change.
Baroness Lawrence and her lawyer Imran Khan QC, who fought for 18 years for justice for Stephen, were the special guests at an event organised by the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre (SLRC) at DMU.
Close to 400 people joined the conversation online to learn more about the importance of the third national Stephen Lawrence Day, which takes place on Thursday 22 April.
Baroness Lawrence talks frequently about “the three C’s” – classrooms, community and careers – and Stephen Lawrence Day is focussed on giving young people a voice to help create a society which treats everyone with fairness and respect.
GCSE students Kanisha Medenyika, from The City of Leicester College, and Reuben Dowthwaite, from Winstanley School, formed a panel with their teachers, Linda Bradshaw and Natasha Boyce, and left a powerful message for the virtual audience.
Kanisha, who wrote a letter to Baroness Lawrence in 2018 about how she had suffered at the hands of racists and pledged to make a difference, has held positive conversations with school managers about a lack of diversity in their ranks.
She said: “Stephen Lawrence Day is a wake-up call for my college. I have made it my mission to see more diversity in senior management.
“Students are not comfortable talking about racism or sharing their experiences of racism if there is a lack of diversity.
“Education in schools is so important. We need to make a platform not just for me but all students to share their experiences and talk about how to overcome racism.
“A school is meant to reflect society and if it does not people will shy away from the topic and they will not open up these conversations.
“Stephen Lawrence has been an example to us all. We did not want it to get that bad and it is so sad that it took the death of a young black male to realise there is a problem in society. We need to have conversations to make the change, and it all starts with us.”
Reuben, who wrote a poem for Baroness Lawrence on the first Stephen Lawrence Day at DMU three years ago, said: “We must focus on our diversity. Winstanley School is so diverse with different races, religions, ethnicities and beliefs. Even though I will never be able to experience racism in the way that you all have, I can be a building block to help make a difference so everyone is safe and secure being who they are.”
Winstanley School has a Stephen Lawrence Ambassadors’ Committee and is dedicating this year’s Stephen Lawrence Day to remembering his life and his passions. So there will be athletics events, art workshops and pupils have also designed a Stephen Lawrence Day flag which will be flown at the front of the school. City of Leicester College is planning to meet with students and ensure they have a say in how the day is celebrated, but will include a classroom takeover session organised by the SLRC.
Reacting to Kanisha and Reuben’s speeches, Baroness Lawrence, who is the Founding Patron of the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre at DMU, said: “It is so important to hear young voices. It was so powerful to hear from someone so young and for Kanisha to have thoughts about how she sees things now and how she wants things to change
“Reuben is a young man who says he has not had the experiences that a person of colour may have had but his thought processes show why young people are our future. This is what we want young people to do. We don’t want adults to carry them along. We want them to have their own thoughts.
Mr Khan added: “The hairs were standing up on the back of my neck listening to these young people. Seeing what Doreen has done and how she has made a difference and empowered these young people is so inspirational. It gives me pride in what we have done, what we are doing and what we need to continue to do. It is so powerful. I am really, really glad I heard that.”
The event took place on the same day that The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities - set up by the Government last year after Black Lives Matter protests - claimed the UK "no longer" had a system rigged against minorities.
Both Baroness Lawrence and Mr Khan said they were let down by the report.
It took them 18 years to finally see justice for Stephen and the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, which investigated why it took so long, had found the Metropolitan Police institutionally racist.
Baroness Lawrence said the report was ’a green light’ for people to be racist and her comments made national headlines last week
For more on Stephen Lawrence Day and the Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation click here
Posted on Thursday 8th April 2021