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‘Stephen Lawrence Day can teach pupils to challenge racism’

A quarter of a century after the notorious murder her son, Doreen Lawrence reflects on a new annual celebration of his life

Baroness Lawrence, Stephen Lawrence Day, Stephen Lawrence

Today is the first national Stephen Lawrence Day, commemorating the life of my son, Stephen Lawrence, who was killed in an unprovoked racist attack.

I wish for Stephen’s name not to be defined by his murder, but by the role model he was and continues to be for many young people.

We want to mark this day by working with schools to encourage children and young people to make their voices heard and to embrace the values of diversity and inclusion.

I believe education has a huge role to play in inspiring future generations to be part of the change they want to see.

The lessons of fairness and respect must start early if we are to have a truly inclusive society, free from discrimination. And I have always believed that these values are strongest when embedded into a school’s culture and explicitly taught through the curriculum.

My message to teachers and schools across the country around Stephen Lawrence Day is: I warmly invite you and your school’s community to use the memory of Stephen’s life and legacy as an opportunity to encourage young people to make positive choices in their life and to play an active role in building strong communities.

Through my work with the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, we’ve already sent out packs to every school in England with materials, practical ideas and guidance on how they can use Stephen’s story to educate and inspire young people.

Whether you are in an early years, primary, secondary, special, sixth form or other school setting, we are calling on schools across the UK to engage the hearts and minds of young people through Stephen’s legacy to live their best life.

Earlier this month, I attended an assembly run by Year 12 students for Year 7 pupils at Dunraven Secondary school in London, based on our theme of "Live Our Best Life". There, I witnessed first-hand our materials being used in practice but, more importantly, it showed the positive influence of creating an open, collaborative environment for young people to share opinions, stories and experiences.

Through these activities, my hope is that all pupils will value cultural diversity and develop the skills and confidence to challenge racism and discrimination and to embrace inclusion.

As the chancellor of a university, I have seen the pressures educational institutions face on a daily basis. For this reason alone, I strongly believe that the teaching of respect and kindness should not be confined to the school gates.

Parents, teachers and their wider communities all have a shared responsibility in helping young people to understand the part they play as individuals in creating a society in which everyone can flourish.

We should also not underestimate the influence of role models within the local community. We often hear about how young people look up to sports stars and music artists but there is an equally important place for local peer-to-peer mentors and role models.

I would like to think that Stephen’s life story, short though it was, provides a positive role model of a life well lived.

Stephen was a normal young person who made the most of everyday opportunities. He particularly loved drawing, running and had dreams and aspirations of becoming an architect.

As part of our work at the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, we’ve helped 126 young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to pursue a career in architecture – a profession that is hugely underrepresented by those from ethnic minority backgrounds. We would not have been able to achieve this without the support of the local community, academics, businesses, our donors and most importantly the inspiration we draw from Stephen.

In the same spirit of collaboration, we want Stephen Lawrence Day to provide an opportunity for schools and their local communities to come together to deliver a range of positive activities for all school-aged children to build on Stephen’s legacy for many years to come.

Through Stephen Lawrence Day we want young people to be inspired about what they can achieve in their own life. We want them to get involved in creating the kind of community they want to live in. And we want them to have a strong voice in building a fairer and more inclusive society.

It has been a long journey to get to this point – but we cannot stop here. I hope that you will join us in celebrating Stephen’s legacy to create a fairer society for everyone to live their best life, regardless of their gender, race, sexuality, religion, disability or background.

Baroness Lawrence OBE is the founder of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust. 

To find out more about how your school can take part in activities on or around Stephen Lawrence Day, all resources for schools are free to download here. 

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