Bristol civil rights hero Dr Paul Stephenson OBE received special recognition at the first ever national race equality conference hosted in the city.
The pioneer and activist was described as one of the country’s “leading lights” and an inspiration for generations as he was honoured with an Award for Outstanding Contribution to Equalities on Friday by Sir Simon Woolley, director of Operation Black Vote and chair of the Government’s Race Disparity Audit (RDA) advisory group.
“His work has not only been instrumental in securing the UK’s first ever legislation to protect the rights of its ethnic minority citizens – the Race Relations Act 1965 – but in building on that foundation through subsequent laws passed,” said Woolley.
Issuing the award to Stephenson, he said: “Your legacy in changing our world is marked forever.”
The award ceremony took place in the final hour of the Race and the City, Tackling Race Inequality conference in City Hall, which brought together leaders from local and national government, public and private sectors in celebration of the progress made in tackling racial inequality – and to take a united approach to address remaining challenges.
“I wake up every morning convinced I can change the world,” said Woolley, as he addressed the packed hall, bringing some of the city’s leaders up on stage with him and speaking of the need for diverse role models to inspire the next generation.
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Organised by Bristol City Council, Bristol Festival of Ideas, Bristol One City Office and the cabinet office’s Race Disparity Unit, the conference sought to focus on challenges – particularly the barriers that prevent some people from diverse ethnic or social backgrounds from achieving their full potential.
It also highlighted examples of successful cross-sector practices that have been established, as well as work taking place within Bristol City Council to address racial inequality. Tickets cost up to £195 (£80 for charity or voluntary sector organisations), with a limited number of reserved bursary places.
Bristol’s Commission on Race Equality (CORE) hosted two breakout sessions during the day, updating attendees on the work being done in the city.
Taking to the stage for the event, held during Black History Month, Sado Jirde, director of Black South West Network, said: “First, we must understand the historical context we are working in. Bristol has been built off the back of a trade that relied on the exploitation of people.”
She continued: “The Bristol of today is not just a tale of two cities, but of many cities – it’s a tale of countless stories with innumerable faces. It’s a tale of the old and the new, of the many and the few, of the privileged and the disadvantaged.”
Jirde concluded: “Racial inequality can be addressed when we start seeing the potential in people rather than seeing them as a problem to be fixed, or worse, contained.”
The conference heard from the Avon and Somerset chief constable Andy Marsh, the judiciary and Crown Prosecution Service, Tracie Jolliff, director of inclusion at the NHS Leadership Academy, the government’s Race Disparity Unit, local politicians and young pioneers, among others.
Entrepreneur and philosopher Mo Ali receievd a standing ovation for his emotive speech on ‘Beyond Race’.
Mayor Marvin Rees said: “A city’s greatest assets are its people and one of Bristol’s greatest strengths is its diversity. Our melting pot of language, culture, skills and experiences make us a centre for creative thought and action. While that diversity is celebrated, our version of the RDA also highlights the significant inequalities that ethnic minority communities continue to face – inequalities that restrict their education and employment opportunities.
“Tackling this is not only the moral thing to do but it makes good economic sense too. Unlocking the city’s full potential would bring countless benefits to all, but it can only be done by working together, across sectors, and at all levels.”