Page 8, 4th December 1998

4th December 1998
Page 8
Page 8, 4th December 1998 — Frances Lawrence explains how, three years after her husband's death,

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Locations: London


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Frances Lawrence explains how, three years after her husband's death,

the awards set up in his memory are already transforming the lives of young people on the borders of crime and drugs

Crossing the frontiers of hope

N A DECEMBER afternoon, as my four children lit candles to herald the wonderment and love of Christmas. their father was murdered on a London street.

As he bled to death, so did humanity bleed. The shock waves stretched far out into society, touching people with the dreadful knowledge that evil had appeared to triumph over good. In a moment of wanton brutality the whole rationale of my life had been invalidated and I knew that I would have to struggle to make sense out of the nonsensical, to hold on to some certainties in a world whose moral code seems to fluctuate like the vagaries of a fashion show.

In the manner of his death Philip acted just as he had done all his life — putting other people's needs before his own. He would have been amazed and embarrassed to have been called a hero. First, because he was the most modest of men — and also because he believed that inside every human being there is something heroic. The premise that shaped his life's works was that every young person can be a force for good. It is this principle that we worked upon when instigating the Philip Lawrence Awards. The scheme offers all young people the chance to become involved in changing society for the better so that the values embodied will shine forth. enhancing all our lives. I wanted the scheme to be more than an eulogy to Philip. He would have hated that, and so would I. Rather, I wanted it to be a scheme which is grounded in reality, however grim. I wanted to reach those who are already on the borders of a life of crime and drugs — and those who have stepped over that border. I was determined to build a bridge of dialogue between those in power and those whose subsistence is fragile in the mess of street life.

The central aim of the Awards is to instil an understanding and facilitate the practice of good citizenship in all young people — not only those who are articulate. literate and who already have an interest. It clearly focuses upon activities that are designed to tackle lawlessness, social tensions and racial harassment.

I know that many of us involved in the Award Scheme have felt humbled by the energy, the spirit and the unselfishness of the young people involved. In many cases, they have worked courageously against a backdrop of street violence, inequality and sterility to mate a safer, more equal and more fruitful society for others. Their starting point is an ethical one, simply articulated. The message is clear. They are unhappy with the society they see around them and they have taken upon themselves the responsibility for change. And in their communities they have effected change. They have established an atmosphere of trust which helps to bridge the potential chasm between genera ti on s, backgrounds and cultures. They are finding enormous pleasure and a sense of fulfilment from their task. And though they may not recognise it, they are growing in selfesteem. Their communities are the richer for them.

In one sense it is true that we are trying to sell the idea of good citizenship. It should be a way of life, as vital to civilised society as the air we breathe. Public figures who are role models to the young must breath this air in their own lives. Those who write the rules must breathe it.

We must no longer condone a society in which things of the spirit are ceasing to have any meaning and human individuality is sacrificed to the great god of material progress. True development of our resources must embrace the concept of the greater good. Constructing a vast teflon Dome as a metaphor for life in Britain is crass and absurd: it gives no shelter to the homeless or succour to the one billion people — a fifth of the world's population who are malnourishedit will pay only lip-service to the event it is meant to celebrate.

Instead it is the time to rekindle in our homes, in our schools, and in our parishes, the twin flames of spiritual awareness and social responsibility amongst the young. We must give them faith in them selves and help them to form the correct perceptions, so that ultimately they may take part in a renaissance of society. They are its hope and its future. On that dark December afternoon. Philip saved the life of a young boy. But he will never again kick a football with his own son. He will never read him a story. He will never sit quietly in a classroom with his pupils and help them to shape their dreams.

And yet I look forward to next Tuesday, the third anniversary of his death. I look forward to presenting the Philip Lawrence Awards to those who have had the courage to learn a new language of selflessness. For as we approach the Millenium there can be no task more urgent. more relevant and more productive than to embrace the true needs of our young people. St Luke tells us that Jesus took a little child and set him by His side and said: -Anyone who welcomes this little child in my name, welcomes me and anyone who welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me."

Nearly 2000 years since Jesus was born seems to me a good time to consolidate that welcome.

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