On the first Stephen Lawrence Day, let’s admit our communities are still unequal
We must build a society that doesn’t exclude anyone on grounds of race, gender, sexuality, religion, disability or background
T he 22nd of April is the first National Stephen Lawrence Day – a day commemorating the life of my son, Stephen Lawrence, who was killed in an unprovoked racist attack.
Stephen’s story is both tragic and inspirational. But I wish for Stephen’s name not to be identified just with his murder, but with the impact he has left on this country and the hope and inspiration he continues to give many young people.
Stephen’s death and the subsequent investigation by the police revealed problems in our country of which we cannot be proud. For the past 26 years, I’ve worked hard to highlight some of these injustices, which has resulted in important changes to the law in Stephen’s name and memory.
I am sure Stephen would be impressed to see what his legacy has achieved. But we still have some way to go in creating a truly civilised British society that treats everyone with fairness and respect.
I hope that today, people from all walks of life will take a moment to consider how they can take an active role in building an inclusive society for everyone to live their best life, regardless of gender, race, sexuality, religion, disability or background.
Our country’s young people have a particularly important part to play in creating societal change – after all, they are our future leaders, headteachers and business owners. If we are to encourage future generations to build a better society, free from discrimination, I believe that we must teach tolerance and inclusion from an early age. Education is a powerful way of inspiring young people, and I would like to see British schools put the values of respect and fairness at the heart of the curriculum.
To turn this ambition into a reality, the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust has sent out packs to every school in England with teaching materials and practical ideas about using Stephen’s story to help pupils develop the skills and confidence to challenge racism and discrimination and to embrace inclusion.
But the values of diversity and fairness should not only be embedded in the classroom. It’s also important that our country’s young people feel there are equal opportunities in higher education and career development. Unfortunately, there is still evidence to suggest that in certain industries and professions, young people from ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely to face hurdles in career progression and discrimination in the workplace. Stephen was someone who had a passion for drawing and aspired to be a young architect. But even 26 years after his death, a recent survey of more than 900 UK-based architects and students showed that over a quarter thought racism was widespread in the profession. As part of our work at the trust, we’ve helped 126 young people from disadvantaged backgrounds pursue a career in architecture.
I would also like to see the UK’s business community think about how they could do more to embrace diversity and inclusivity in the workplace. Research by Innovate UK found that 82% of young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds view the business sector as difficult to access, while other statistics show that teenagers from the most disadvantaged areas of the UK are four times less likely to apply for university than their more socially advantaged peers. Role models and peer mentors from the local community can be an important source of inspiration for young people, especially those from underprivileged backgrounds.
Communities are the bedrock of society. From sports clubs to youth centres and libraries, it’s vital that our communities have the services and facilities to support our young people’s development. Stephen was an enthusiastic sportsman and was particularly active in his local running club. At this year’s London Marathon, the 18-mile marker, designed by three young architects, will motivate runners at one of the toughest parts of the race with our slogan – Because of Stephen We Can.
Whether you are a teacher, parent, local business or community worker, I strongly believe that we all need to do a better job of encouraging and inspiring young people to get involved in creating the kind of community they want to live in. I hope that the first National Stephen Lawrence Day will help to drive forward an important national conversation about how we can all build a fairer and more inclusive Britain. But more importantly, I want this day to inspire our country’s future generation into living their best life – in the same spirit as Stephen.