Poet and broadcaster Lemn Sissay launches university scheme to boost number of black males in legal sector

BOOSTING BLACK MALES IN THE LEGAL PROFESSION: (L-R) Barrister Tunde Okewale MBE, Patrick Johnson head of Equality and Diversity at The University of Manchester and Lemn Sissay

POET AND broadcaster Lemn Sissay, the Chancellor of The University of Manchester, is launching a new university bursary designed to increase the number of black males embarking on careers in law and the criminal justice sector.

A first of its kind, the Lemn Sissay Law Bursaries take into account applicants race, gender and socio-economic background.

It will offer eligible applicants an annual grant of £3,000, funded by the School of Law.

The School of Law’s Black Lawyers Matter project was set up in 2016 by a group of academics, community leaders and legal practitioners on discovery that out of some 1200 undergraduates, only 14 UK-based Black males of African and Caribbean heritage were registered on law and criminology courses, and of these 0 were from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Working with community organisations, schools, regulators and legal and criminal justice professionals, the project aims to address black and minority ethnic under-representation in higher education and the professions – as well as to promote the relationship between the University and Manchester’s African & Caribbean communities.

“I am immensely proud to have these bursaries named after me, as I fully understand how difficult it can be for people from my background to advance in life,” said Lemn, who grew up in care. “One of the main goals of the university is social responsibility, which makes it unique in the UK.  It does an awful lot to inform communities who may feel university isn’t for them that the opposite is true, through public engagement work and schemes like this one.”

“It is a privilege to be part of this project, which will widen participation and improve the relationship with the local communities who often never benefit from the resources of universities,“ said barrister Tunde Okewale MBE. “This is something that would have benefited me had it existed when I was studying law. I believe that it will help to improve and increase the diversity within the legal industry, as well as facilitating a more open and transparent dialogue about racial inequality in higher education.”

“This initiative signals an important step in progressing with our local communities and partner organisations to ensure that people from all backgrounds feel a sense of ownership of and belonging to The University of Manchester and its cultural institutions,” said senior lecturer Dr Dawn Edge, The University’s Academic Lead for Equality, Diversity & Inclusion. “

The bursary will be launched at an event tonight (Sept 13), which will feature speakers, including debates with Greater Manchester Black & Asian Police Association, youth workers and musicians about combating the recent rise in violence, cuts to local services, the role of the police and making our communities safer.