Lessons I’ve learned from Stephen’s murder… and how they can help kids create better tomorrow

STUART LAWRENCE has been a teacher for 15 years and a proud parent for a decade.

This Thursday marks 28 years since his older brother Stephen was murdered on April 22, 1993, aged 18, in a racially motivated attack that shocked the nation.

Stuart, 44, has dedicated his life to mentoring young people to find their paths. In his new children’s book, Silence Is Not An Option, he says it is vital for kids to find their voice and stand up for change.

As schools and communities observe Stephen Lawrence Day this Thursday with activities themed on friendship and celebrating differences in communities, Stuart – dad to Theo, ten – says parents can help their children be part of a tolerant society.

MY son Theo was born at 11 minutes past 11 on January 11, 2011. I remember looking at him moments after his birth and realising my life was about to change. He was now my priority.

At the same time, I experienced a wave of emotion as I thought about what my mum had gone through when we lost my brother Stephen — it helped me to understand how precious Theo was.

As my son has grown, I’ve tried to be the best person I can for him. I was a secondary school teacher for 15 years and I’ve seen young people’s potential.

I’ve seen 11-year-olds arrive at school and look unsure of their surroundings. But by the time they leave they have grown into amazing individuals.

I love seeing that journey and using my knowledge to help them develop.
Being a parent is just the same but can be tough at times. You want to be your child’s friend and to let them know how much you love them, but they don’t always see it that way.

Instead, I hope my actions and the people I speak to can help Theo grow into the person I know he can be. In my new book for children, I’ve shared lessons I’ve learnt as a teacher as well as some reflections on Stephen’s life and on my own.

I’ve tried to pass on the tools that have helped me live positively and progress through tough times. I hope these tips can help children find their own voice, stand up for change and take part in creating a more positive society.

While I have dedicated this book to Theo, I hope every parent will want to share these messages with their sons and daughters.

FINDING A ROLE MODEL

THERE can be such a buzz around being famous. I would always say to kids, remember celebrities are people just like you. But finding role models can help children shape their goals and take steps to achieve them.

I met Nelson Mandela when I was 16, shortly after my brother Stephen died. But it wasn’t until I read his book, Long Walk to Freedom, that I fully understood what he stood for.

I remember thinking about the 27 years he spent in prison and the things he gave up to end the separation of black and white people in South Africa.

Learning about Mandela’s story made me realise how much he’d helped my family. By meeting us, listening to us and speaking to the press, he changed people’s minds about my brother’s murder.

Through learning about Mandela, I discovered that by promoting other people’s voices, I too can help end injustices and change outcomes — even if only in small ways.

If you want to inspire your kids to speak up for others, you could talk to them about Mandela’s life and think about what parts of his character helped him achieve his goals.

You might want to ask your kids about the people they look up to — it could be a friend, a teacher, a footballer or a public figure. With your kids, jot down what they admire about that person and what they’ve achieved. Ask your kids how they might use those lessons in their own lives to reach their dreams.

STEPHEN LAWRENCE DAY

THIS Thursday is Stephen Lawrence Day, which marks the 28th anniversary of my brother’s death.

Every year on April 22, the Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation holds activities classrooms and community activities to help people understand about difference and why it should be celebrated.

On Thursday, these will include school assemblies, afternoon sessions for community groups on how to discuss racism and diversity, and a careers-based event in the evening called A Message To My Younger Self.

Stephen Lawrence Day is all about engaging young people in conversations and empowering kids to be the best versions of themselves. While the day is deeply emotional for me, the activities help to pass on a positive message of change.

By moving conversations forward, by changing hearts and minds, we can make a real difference in our communities.

CELEBRATING DIFFERENCES

I LIVE in London, one of the best cities in the world. Everywhere you go in London, there are small pockets of different communities, whether it’s African, Caribbean or Polish.

In my new book, I wanted to share with kids the idea that life is better when it’s all different. How boring would it be if we were all exactly the same, if we liked the same food and the same activities? The world would be so dull.

As a parent, it can help to encourage your kids to explore different cultures. By learning about the stories and practices of other communities, children can appreciate that we’re all slightly different — but that we also have so much in common.

The other day I found out that in Ghanaian culture, to offer your left hand is disrespectful. If I’m left-handed, I visit Ghana and I don’t know that important information, people will think I’m rude when I offer my left hand as a greeting.

If you don’t know something about someone else’s culture, it’s OK to politely ask and find out. And it’s also OK to respectfully explain to other people about the way your communities do things.

There are many ways to help your kids find out about different cultures.
It might be as simple as stepping out of your front door and visiting a new area. In London, there are great festivals like People’s Day in Lewisham and the Lambeth Country Show in Brockwell Park which can help you and your family find out about new cultures.

You could also talk to your kids about an expectation or practice there is in your community. Then look at another culture — how might their expectations differ?

PLAN FOR THE FUTURE

AFTER losing my brother Stephen, it was hard to think about the future or plan six months ahead. All of a sudden, at age 16, I was shown how fragile life is.

For a long time, I felt I had to live in the present because I didn’t know if there was going to be a tomorrow. But that attitude can become detrimental if it stops you from looking forward.

Now, I’ve learnt to write goals down. I try to write in my journal every day. Those steps have helped me become the person I am today.

Encouraging your child to plan for new stages of their life can also be a great way for them to find their potential. When kids begin a new chapter at secondary school, sitting down with them to plot their goals can help them start afresh.

If they want to be the sporty kid, they can plan to attend all the practices and try out for the teams.

To help your kids with their new start, sit down together and then talk through a new goal they want to achieve. Ask them to think through the short-term, mid-term and long-term steps to help them get there.

BUDDY UP

FROM the age of six, I stayed in the same room as my brother Stephen. Whenever I had a question or problem, I knew I could go to him about it.
Stephen was my buddy system.

He would tell me what to expect when I started new clubs and he guided me through a lot of my first experiences. Now, as an adult, I have become a mentor myself. We all need someone we can speak to who will help guide our moral compass.

In the same way, it’s important for kids to find someone who they can share ideas with. It could be a teacher at school, a close friend or an aunt or uncle.

Think about the family members, teachers and friends your kids have around them. How can they be a positive influence in your children’s lives?

As children grow up, they too can learn to be a buddy for friends and classmates. They might be able to give a classmate tips on a school project or help the newest member of the football team.

Ask your kids to think about how they could use their experiences to help someone younger learn about a new situation.

YOUR VOICE MATTERS

ONE of the most important things a young person can learn is that the things they do and say have a real impact on other people.

When I was at school, I knew there was a certain hierarchy in my form. I knew I wasn’t at the top but I liked being somewhere near the top, and for people to know I had principles.

I tried to make sure everyone was allowed to be who they wanted to be. No one was allowed to ridicule someone who was part of my friendship group. As everyone was part of my friendship group, we all got on.

Those experiences showed me the importance of speaking up and looking out for others — and how we can pass that on to our children. When someone is being picked on, or there are prejudices in our society, silence is not an option.

Unless someone challenges unkind or unjust behaviour, it will only continue. Encourage your children to think about the ways their voices can make a difference.

If there’s someone in their class who is being called unpleasant names by other pupils, what might they do? If they know that person is being treated unfairly, how might they stick up for them? Would they report the bullying behaviour? Or just say nothing?

By talking through different examples with your child, they can understand just how much their actions can help change a person’s life.

  • Silence Is Not An Option, by Stuart Lawrence (Scholastic, £9.99), is on sale now.

    Source: Read Full Article