As a Romany Gypsy, Jem Leveridge knows all about the potential tensions that can arise between the police and her community.
But the second year De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) Law student is determined to be a part of the solution to the issues of trust she has grown up with, by setting her sights on a career with the police.
It is thanks to being a recipient of the annual DMU Stephen Lawrence Professional Scholarships – named after the teenager who was murdered by racists in 1993 - that Jem has become the first in her family to go into higher education and aim for the qualifications needed to realise her ambition.
Jem is one of several students to receive the scholarship, set up in honour of Stephen Lawrence by his mother Baroness Doreen Lawrence, the former chancellor of DMU and the founding patron of the university’s Stephen Lawrence Research Centre (SLRC).
The scholarship was set up to transform the career opportunities of aspiring, talented people from disadvantaged backgrounds with tuition fee reductions and an annual cash bursary.
Initially, the scholarship focused on helping disadvantaged students into careers in architecture – the profession which Stephen wanted to enter. Since then, it has been expanded into other professions including law and journalism.
Jem said: “The money means I have been able to buy the extra books I need to study the course and help me day to day.
“Law is so competitive and you need all the help you can get. It is not something I could have done without the scholarship
“It is massive for me to come to university. I was not even expected to get past the high school stage in all honesty.”
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Jem is determined to join the police and be a force for good for the Gypsy Traveller community in East Anglia, where she lives.
She explained: “I am from a Romany Gypsy Traveller background where there is a trust issue with the police.
“In the police force, there is one person to cover the whole of Norfolk and Suffolk as a Gypsy and Traveller liaison officer.
“Gypsies and Travellers still feel they are treated unfairly. In general, people do not understand a way of life that has been the same way for generations and there is no real attempt to understand it. I would like to change that.”
Tradition means Jem’s career path might have raised a few eyebrows but she has had nothing but support from her family.
“I want to say to anyone who is wanting to take the step up to higher education from the community to just go for it. If there is funding in place and there are opportunities to be had then do it.”
Jem added: “I was aware of the Stephen Lawrence story in college and he was a case study that we looked into in A-level law.
“Since joining DMU I have looked still further into the case and I really felt for him. Just because of who he was, these people felt it was okay to murder him.
“I am determined to make things better by joining the police force and helping them understand my culture. I want to make a difference.”
Last week DMU’s Stephen Lawrence Research Centre organised ‘classroom takeovers’ at 16 schools across the city and county to help pupils understand Stephen’s story and to mark the third national Stephen Lawrence Day, which took place on Thursday 22 April.
The centre is home to top academics and a centre for discussion on how to make society fairer for all. You can find out more about the centre and its work at DMU here
Posted on Wednesday 28th April 2021