It was something of a reality check to discover that most, if not all, of those currently enrolled as diocesan interns and ministry experience volunteers were unaware of the name of Stephen Lawrence. This year marks 30 years since Stephen’s murder and almost all of those at the training session on anti-racism I delivered recently hadn’t been born in April 1992 when the aspiring architect was waiting at a bus stop in Eltham, South London when he was stabbed to death for being black.
The subsequent investigation by the Metropolitan Police assumed that Stephen must have been in part, at least, to blame for the circumstances that led to his death. He was, after all, a young black man. Surely that meant he was involved with a gang and that his death was part of a continuing beef or reprisal? He must have done something to provoke or incite his own murder. What other reason could there be?
The theme for this year’s Racial Justice Sunday on February 12 is the commemoration of Stephen’s death - an emblematic reminder of the continuing call and work for justice that forms a core part of our discipleship. Jesus Christ’s Nazareth manifesto set out at the start of his ministry Luke 4, combined with the call to just living by the prophets - Isaiah, Micah, Amos and others - all point to a call for us to work for justice in our journey of discipleship as co-workers, led by the Spirit, in building the Kingdom of God.
In her introduction to the resources for Racial Justice Sunday, prepared by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, Baroness Doreen Lawrence writes: “Stephen’s story is both challenging and inspirational. He was a normal young person who made the most of everyday opportunities. Young people today may not yet have heard the name Stephen Lawrence, but his story is as relevant today as it has ever been. Racial Justice Sunday is a vital strand of the legacy of hope and change that has been carved in Stephen’s name.”
As we lament the lives of those like Stephen whose lives have been diminished, scarred or lost to the brutality and sinfulness of racism, so we continue to fix our eyes on Christ; he who calls us to live lives which proclaim in word and deed the Good News of God. To work together for the coming of that Kingdom where people from every tribe and nation will stand together, united in Christ, before the throne of God.