Stephen Lawrence was born in September 1974, just three weeks after I was born and I am writing this piece on the 28th Anniversary of his death. For many reading this piece, the name Stephen Lawrence, needs no further explanation or clarification. Indeed, the same is true for many of our pupils. But, for others, 28 years ago is well beyond a lifetime for them which puts the events of 1993 in the category of ‘history’ and as with many horrific acts of history, should we forget them we are doomed to repeat them. To illustrate this, let me take you back to 17 May 1959. On that night, 32 year old Kelso Cochraine, a carpenter originally from Antigua was walking home through Notting Hill when he was attacked and killed by a gang of white youths. His murder was never solved and with hauntingly similar reports as Stephen’s death, the police investigation was considered highly flawed. The public outcry led to commemorative events which ultimately led to the beginning of the Notting Hill Carnival. I had not heard of Kelso Cochraine until just a few weeks ago when I heard a book review of Murder in Notting Hill (Mark Olden, 2011) on the radio one evening after work. The impact I felt from hearing the book review led me to stop the car as soon as I could and order the book from Amazon there and then before I could forget. And really, we must not forget. That despite the outcry, despite the inquiries, 40 years later not so far away in another London street another young black man was killed by a gang of white men and the same mistakes were made.
Our Senior School assembly this week was carefully curated and presented by Miss Robinson and gave a sensitive and informed look at the death of Stephen Lawrence, the failures that led to his killers going free for so long and the legacy of hope and change that his parents and family have chosen to promote. Stephen Lawrence Day is now held on 22 April each year, promoted by the Stephen Lawrence Foundation set up by his grieving parents. Their determination to remember their son in a positive way, when it would have been so much easier to eschew bitterness, has led to seismic changes in institutions across the UK.
But finally, only in 2020, has the racism and bias (unconscious or otherwise) that is inherent in so many parts of society finally been spoken about in ways that can not be ignored any more. Black Lives Matter and the social and media movement around it has uncovered truths which should not have remained invisible and yet toxic for so many years. And it is so much harder to ignore an issue that is under such a spotlight.
Alongside her assembly, which we are delighted to share with you here, Miss Robinson has been promoting a range of ways in which our school community can make the change
Using the #ChallengeAccepted tag, we asked the school community to join the wider community and do something simple to help others and then pass it on. This could be through an act of kindness, a creative expression of what ‘living your best life’ looks like for you or sharing the learning about Stephen’s story. Please take the time to talk about Stephen’s story with your daughter over the coming days as a way to ensure his story is never forgotten and his legacy of hope and change continues.