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Thanks to Stephen I have a voice, I have power: DMU celebrates five years of the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre


Hundreds of young people gathered with pride at 鶹Ƶ, Leicester (DMU) to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre, (SLRC) and recognise their role as ambassadors.

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When the SLRC opened five years ago, one of the aims it had was to create Stephen Lawrence Ambassadors – young people who would actively engage in learning about social justice and racial issues, sharing what they know and learn with others.

It was a way of ensuring that the murder of 18-year-old Stephen Lawrence, who was killed in a racist attack in 1993, had a positive legacy in society.

At first, there were just ten such ambassadors. Today there is more than 200 in schools across the city and county of Leicestershire.

Yesterday, more than 100 of them came together to celebrate this milestone, sharing stories of how it has transformed their lives for the better, filling the room with a unified message: “Thanks to Stephen, I have a voice.”

The SLRC was officially opened on the DMU campus in 2019 by Stephen’s mother Baroness Doreen Lawrence, the former Chancellor of DMU. It focuses on giving students and young people a voice to help create a society which treats everyone with fairness and respect.

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Winstanley School in Braunstone was the first school to partner with the centre, with ten ambassadors. Five years on this has grown with over 40 ambassadors now at the same school.

Reuben Dowthwaite, a former student from Winstanley School shared how being a Stephen Lawrence ambassador has changed him.

He said: “I became an ambassador because I realised that there were injustices happening in society that I was kind of hidden from.

“I didn’t really know that they were happening, and through my journey I have realised that I can have a voice, I can help change these things.

“I can support my fellow students and be an ally in their work to make sure that they are involved in society as much as I am.”

He added: “Being an ambassador, has almost completely changed my life, right down to my degree course options.

“I was originally going to study maths at university, I am now hopefully going to study Philosophy Politics and Economics at Oxford University, and as part of that I really want take on racial studies, and make sure that everyone’s represented in politics.”

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Vanessa Harding, another former Winstanley School pupil, who is currently studying law at Birmingham City University, said: “I didn’t have a lot of black friends at primary school or early on in my time at secondary school. I always tried to fit in and felt like I needed to change myself to fit in.

"Every single day since I becoming an ambassador, I have felt more confident, I have realised I don’t need to change to fit in with people, I am fine exactly how I am.”

Damari Gray, from Winstanley School was one of the very first ambassadors, when he was just in year seven. He has now just finished his GCSE’s. He said: “Five years ago, I was really shy and any time there were any racial incidents at school, I just kept quiet.

“During the last five years, I have seen significant change in the attitudes of both staff and students, and this is from the knowledge gained from Stephen Lawrence Ambassadors: we have a voice and we are making change happen.”

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After hearing from the original cohort of ambassadors a second panel was formed with current pupils carrying on the work at both Winstanley School and Countesthorpe Academy.

Dionne Gray, in year 10 at Winstanley School, became an ambassador because of the pride she felt watching her older brother, also an ambassador, fight for change.

Speaking of her own experiences, she said: “I feel like I have something important to say, and I have a voice, it’s heard and I have power.

“Before I became an ambassador, I was unmotivated to come to school, always late or missed lessons. Being an ambassador has given me purpose and made me look forward to coming to school, being in an environment I can engage with something great.

“I believe having Stephen Lawrence Ambassadors in our school has made our students more confident in talking about antiracism, I believe our community is more sensitive to different forms of injustice. We have help to create a culture of upstanders.”

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Namakau Sibongo, in year 10 at Winstanley School, said: “I didn’t have the best experience at primary school, I never felt like I fit in and was always on the outside.

“Being an ambassador encourages me to speak out and I want to help people feel the same.  I feel empowered and like a changed person, I have a sense of purpose and a place where I finally belong.”

Joanna Trivett in year 9 at Countesthorpe Academy, said: “Now instead of being a bystander and turning the other way when a situation arises, I feel confident to challenge the problem.

“Without Stephen, I would never have found my voice, my confidence or be able to make a difference in my school or help change the way the world works.”

Posted on Wednesday 26 June 2024

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