On 22 April 1993, the country was shocked by the murder of 18-year-old Stephen Lawrence in an unprovoked, racist attack. The subsequent investigation, and public enquiry highlighted the structural and systemic racism across the country.
Here at Drive Forward we would like to honour this year’s Stephen Lawrence Day by highlighting how having a supportive network, opportunity to grow and develop can provide lifelong, blended learning and development opportunities for care experienced young professionals.
We interviewed Drive Forward young person Bebert Longi about how he overcomes challenges and what he would like to ask Stephen Lawrence if he had the chance to speak with him.
What are you studying?
I am studying Politics, Governance and Public Policy MA at the University of Sheffield
Why have you chosen to study these subjects?
I studied Politics at undergraduate level. My interest in politics started from a young age. I was intrigued by parliamentary debates on the TV but it wasn’t until I watched a film on Patrice Lumumba [Congolose politician and independence leader] that I decided to study it at university.
What are your career ambitions?
I have an ambition to work in an NGO, primarily in political communications or policy analysis.
Have you faced any barriers, while choosing your career path?
I have not faced barriers to choosing the path, although it took time to understand what I was interested in. I have perhaps faced barriers to accessing university, but all have been overcome by perseverance and a good support network.
How do you identify your ethnicity and nationality?
I’m black British but my ethnic background is Congolese. My first name, Bebert, is actually a French name so normally it is spelled ‘Bébert’ but I’m also named after my uncle who is named Albert. My last name Longi is in the Kikongo language from Congo and it means teacher.
When asked about what you are studying, what reactions do you get?
Normally when people react to me doing politics, they assume I want to be a politician and I have to remind them it doesn’t always work that way! But often people are interested, as politics is a subject that affects us all.
“I definitely feel that I have a responsibility to change assumptions about black men”
Do you know much about the Stephen Lawrence case and if so has it impacted the way you navigate your day to day life?
I first heard about the Stephen Lawrence from my mother. It happened before I was born but she told me about the case. It’s one of many examples of how racism affects black Britons. We often say that racism in the UK is covert, but really it can be quite in your face. I wish that the debate around race would open up as it has in the United States. Stephen Lawrence’s murder has definitely impacted me in the sense that I have a greater understanding of the consequences of racism.
Do you feel that as a young black man you have an added responsibility to ‘make it’, particularly within white occupied spaces?
Definitely. I have been in many situations where I feel slightly different but I’ve learned to adapt to that. I definitely feel that I have a responsibility to change assumptions about black men in general and what fields we should specialise in.
What advice would you give to young black men who feel as though the struggles they are facing are too great to overcome?
My advice would be that firstly they should not be ashamed to say when they have an issue that is affecting them. I think we find it quite difficult a lot of the time to express ourselves due to societal pressures and perceptions of the stereotypical black man. If you have someone, or a group of people, who you can trust and you feel at ease with, you should never be ashamed to seek their help and remember that everyone has their own private battles. There is help and you will overcome it.
And if you could have a moment with Stephen Lawrence now what would you tell him?
If I had a moment with Stephen Lawrence I would ask him how his experience as a black Briton in the early 90s was, exploring both the positives and the negatives and what he thought about the race riots in Brixton.
Bebert Longi is a Drive Forward young person and member of FORE (Forward On Racial Equality), a group of DFF young people who meet regularly and discuss topics related to race and how it affects them. Last year, he researched how race and care experience intersect in the UK, and summarized his reflections in a blog.