Empowering communities: reflections on the 'School of Law and the Black Community' event

The event took place on 23 April at the School of Law and aimed to expand opportunities for people from the black community.

With a sold-out auditorium and over 50 attendees, including school leaders, school children, community leaders, as well as academic and professional services staff from Leeds, the 'School of Law and the Black Community' event commemorated Stephen Lawrence Day and challenged all attendees to consider what a law school serving the local Black community might look like.

The event was organised by Dwayne Hutchinson, owner, founder and CEO of AccomplishBCEL, and Dr Nick Cartwright, Associate Professor in Law and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Lead at the University of Leeds’ School of Law. The event was open to the public and the organisers actively encouraged people of all ethnicities to participate and attend, saying,

People can often think they are unable to attend events relating to the Black community because their ethnicity is different. This is not true. We invite and we welcome every ethnicity to this event so please know that we are looking forward to having various ethnicities in the room with us.

Dwayne Hutchinson, in his capacity as a Community Development Specialist at AccomplishBCEL, collaborates with individuals of all ethnicities, including Black Boys, Black Young Men, and Black Men across Leeds, the Midlands, and London. His work extends to raising awareness about the challenges faced by the Black community in the UK.

Reflecting on his experiences and the driving force behind this event, Dwayne expresses,

The motivation behind the event came from discussions between myself and Dr Nick Cartwright, an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Leeds, around Black Students at University and their Law department. The word ‘law’ often has negative associations for people of ethnic origin, so we wanted to address this and show a variety of positive correlations and connections between the Law School and the Black community.

During the event, Dwayne and Nick delved into the significance of having an entire community learning and enhancing their understanding of their rights in the context of the law, emphasizing the specific challenges encountered by Black individuals in the higher education sector. In this regard, Nick underscores,

Higher Education as a sector is institutionally racist and universities are often sites of violence for Black people. Three out of every 20 Black staff resign from universities because of racism and over half of Black students will experience racist abuse from other students or staff. Against this background, it is important that we recognise the civic responsibility that our Law School owes to advancing social justice in Leeds. It was great to invite the local Black community into our school and hear their constructive suggestions as to how we can better support them.

The event also provided time for questions and discussions, fostering interaction between the Law School community and the local Black community. Afterwards, guests enjoyed Nigerian food and had an opportunity to network.

After a successful event, attendees left with a positive impression, inspired by the discussions on social justice and community empowerment. Notably, university staff, led by Professor Paul Johnson, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Leeds, affirmed their commitment to translating the event's momentum into tangible actions.

Emphasising the significance of this event, Professor Paul Johnson says,

The Law School is part of the Faculty of Social Sciences, which has a Vision and Strategy that is summed up by its title: Changing the world, for the good of all. Our mission in our Faculty is to undertake work that positively transforms our society, for the benefit of all people. One way that we do that is to address forms of injustice and challenge discrimination, in the aspiration of making our society better for everyone. That is why events like this are so important, in focusing attention on what we all collectively aspire to: to live in a society in which law protects people from inequality and discrimination.

Looking forward, the organisers anticipate the continuation of this vital work and the prospect of future collaborations aimed at furthering social justice and community empowerment.

Photo taken by Charlotte Hutchinson of Charlotte Captures The Memories photography company.