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Stephen Lawrence Day aims to give youth their voice

PASSIONATE: Baroness Doreen Lawrence says she wants young people to be inspired by her late son, Stephen Lawrence

AS BRITAIN gets ready to mark the inaugural Stephen Lawrence Day, his mother, Baroness Doreen Lawrence, has told The Voice she wants Stephen’s legacy to encourage young people to have an impact on their local communities.

Last year Prime Minister Theresa May announced that a national day of commemoration for murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence will take place annually on April 22 every year.

The news was announced as his family attended the 25th anniversary memorial service marking his death in 2018.

The 18-year-old was stabbed to death in a racially motivated attack in Eltham, south London, in 1993.

Speaking exclusively to The Voice, Baroness Lawrence said that Stephen’s legacy had changed the nation. But she said she wanted the day to challenge young people to create their own legacies by getting involved in their local communities and challenging elected officials on issues they cared about.

She said: “Through Stephen’s name, the campaign for justice, the court case that followed and the laws that were changed in his name, the country is closer to what it should be – a better place for all people to live in, and especially for young people growing up.

“Hence the day should help them to start focusing on themselves, what it is they would like to see changed in society and what’s happening within their community so they can live their best lives.

As well as the April 22 event, another significant day for the Lawrence family will be the launch of the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre on May 9 at De Montfort University (DMU) in Leicester, where Baroness Lawrence is chancellor.

HOPE: Baroness Lawrence looks over a creative project undertaken by young visitors to the new Stephen Lawrence Research Centre

Last week, she welcomed more than 100 secondary school-age pupils from six Leicestershire schools to a first look inside the new centre on the DMU campus.

The Stephen Lawrence Research Centre will also act as a home to archive material donated by Baroness Lawrence about Stephen’s life, his family’s campaign for justice, the court case, the inquiry and the subsequent Macpherson report.

It will also research the histories of black and minority ethnic communities in the UK, the politics and practice of institutional racism, denials of justice and the psychology of racial violence.

Speaking about the Leicester event, she said: “Seeing the young people today, it just gives me a little bit more hope about where we see our young people and how they can move forward in life.

“They’ve looked at some of the work Stephen did when he was a cub, the certificates he won doing drawings or running or whatever. And that’s encouraged them to start thinking about their own lives and what they would like to see as their legacy. “This is the first year of the Stephen Lawrence Day and I see it as something that will encourage young people to address the things they care about, articulate their voices and their concerns and talk about how they see themselves and their futures. “What are their aspirations? How do they live their lives within their communities? How do they challenge things that they see around them? What is it that they think they can make better? This is what the day will focus on.

“But I don’t just see it as something limited to one day. It’s an initiative that will happen right across the coming year at schools, youth centres across the country. I want Stephen Lawrence Day to be an event that encourages young people to keep pushing themselves forward.”

She added: “It is very important that young people’s views should not be overlooked.

“If you think about what happened around the Brexit referendum for example young people were not allowed to have a voice.

“There are many 16- and 17-year-olds who would probably have voted but were not given that opportunity.

LEGACY: School pupils look over some of the archive material at the centre

“But this is an issue that is going to affect their lives. I have a grand-daughter who is 14 and she is very opinionated.

“She has her views and her views are valid and that’s what we need to listen to sometimes because young people have valid views. You feel sometimes that politicians are wagging their fingers saying, ‘We know best’.” Over the years Baroness Lawrence has won praise for her resilient campaigning and tireless dedication to community action, anti-racism and other causes close to her heart.

Despite being devastated by grief following Stephen’s murder she and Stephen’s father Neville founded the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust in 1998, with the aim of promoting a positive community legacy in their son’s name, one that would ensure future generations of young people would be given opportunities that were denied to Stephen.

The trust has had a significant positive impact on the lives of the young people it has worked with.

Baroness Lawrence was awarded an OBE for services to community relations in 2003 and was made a life peer in the House of Lords in 2013. The fact that the day will be marked is a culmination of a consistent campaign for justice. However, she was keen to praise those that had supported her.

“The projects that will be part of Stephen Lawrence Day just reinforce all the things I’ve been working on over the years.

“To get to this point now, which is not something I thought I’d ever get to back in 1993 – I never had a plan.

"But over the years, through all the work that’s been done I’ve always said it’s not just me.

“Yes, I may have been the driving force for a lot of things, but without other people working and helping me to get to where I am now, it would never have happened.

“Who would have thought almost 26 years ago that we would be here now talking about the Stephen Lawrence Day and the legacy of Stephen?”

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