Baroness Lawrence: My son Stephen’s place in UK black history has not gone to waste

An Op-Ed piece by Baroness Lawrence in the Times of London.

Born in Jamaica, as was her husband, Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon is a Labour peer and anti-racism campaigner. You can read about the events surrounding her son’s murder in 1993 here.

In 1987, when my son Stephen was 13, the UK celebrated its first Black History Month. Had you told me then that his life would become a chapter within that history, like any loving mother, I would probably have agreed – who knew what this talented young man could go on to achieve?

His pages might have read differently. He could have earnt them as an esteemed architect, as was his dream. We will never know. My son was murdered by racistsbefore his dreams had a chance to come true. He became a chapter in the UK’s black history not for his success, but for an arduous and publicly fought battle for justice. When Stephen’s life ended, my fight began.

That was 1993. Attaining justice for the murder of an innocent black man was then a forlorn exercise in battling an establishment that didn’t care. From the top down, British society was rotten with racism, both overt and institutional. It is 27 years later now. My son is long buried. One can not help but ask: how much has changed in that time?

I was not able to fully accomplish justice for Stephen, though I am proud that in overcoming the barriers I faced, Britain is a fairer society than it was. But fairer doesn’t mean fair. This year has demonstrated that Stephen’s story is as relevant today as it ever has been.

Consider the egregious treatment of Windrush families by the UK government or the inordinate number of minority deaths at Grenfell. Consider the increasing incidences of hate crime in recent years and the return of racist chants at football matches. Or, consider the disproportionately high number of ethnic people – bus drivers, nurses, carers – to die at the hands of Covid-19, and it becomes clear that we still have a long way to go.

Yet I am sanguine. I see this year as a turning point for this most pressing of issues; the culmination of decades of activism reaching its natural tipping point. Following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in America and the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests, many eyes have opened to the extent that racial inequality remains prevalent.

This is one of those truly rare opportunities for a step change. There is now widespread acceptance that we must all do better and, critically, this desire is accompanied by the energy and purpose to make it happen. For those of us who have been on this path for decades, it is an extraordinary, unexpected and meaningful place to have reached – and one upon which we must capitalise.

Using this momentum we must redouble our efforts, think bigger and use the moment to create more opportunities for more people on our journey to equality for all. This is the purpose of my new charity, the Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation, which launches this month. In 2018, Theresa May, the prime minister, officially marked April 22 – the day in 1993 that my son died – as Stephen Lawrence Day in the British calendar. It is a celebration of his life and legacy; a moment to reflect and to keep the focus on racial inequality and celebrate efforts to remove it.

The day will also be a celebration of everything that Stephen was and could have become and it will celebrate what is being achieved in his name. The Foundation will be the home of Stephen’s legacy. We’ve structured our efforts around a virtuous circle of “three Cs”: classrooms, community and careers.

We want to inspire children to dream freely without barriers and to realise the absolute importance of education; we want to support and create new connections within all types of communities; and we want to work with big business to put black men from low-income families on a path towards the boardrooms of the UK’s most prestigious organisations.

I have been lucky to have so much support from so many people across the country and beyond over the last nearly 30 years. And as I embark on this new chapter, I hope many of you reading this, during this momentous and memorable Black History Month, will continue to support me through the work of the Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation.

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