Lewisham Council awarded Doreen Lawrence the Freedom of the Borough in a ceremony tonight. The text of the speech I gave in her honor is copied below.
Baroness, High Commissioner, Freemen and Freewomen, Members of Parliament, Councillors, Ladies and Gentlemen.
The Borough of Lewisham awards the Freedom of the Borough sparingly – but when it is awarded it is to remarkable people. People like Sybil Phoenix, Terry Waite and Erica Pienaar who are all with us tonight – and, of course, Archbishop Desmond Tutu who is not but who keeps Lewisham and its citizens in his thoughts and prayers.
Tonight we add a truly remarkable woman to that list and it is my privilege to begin our tributes to her. Tonight is about celebrating the achievements of the Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon as she is now called although I trust she will permit me to go on calling her Doreen.
The events that have shaped her life are part of her story of course just as the continuing revelations about the appalling behaviour of some members of the police force cannot be far from our minds – but tonight is about Doreen – someone who is admired by millions and is a source of inspiration for both young and old from every walk of life.
For first the first 40 years of her life Doreen’s story is one that many will recognise and share. Though born elsewhere, Jamaica, in Doreen’s case, Lewisham became home and she went to school here and later to GoldsmithsCollege. She married, started a family and brought up her children. And then one night in 1993 her life changed for ever.
When tragedy strikes even the strongest struggle to make sense of it and move forward – the best that can be hoped for is that time may provide some respite as they struggle to make sense of things. Some set out to find an explanation for the tragedy, to seek justice when that is called for. Others look for a way to turn that tragedy on its head and create something of lasting value.
Both of those responses require courage of an exceptional order. To set out to do both – and to come even close to success – is something that only a very few could ever achieve – but that is exactly what Doreen Lawrence has done.
When I think about her and recall the importance of her faith to her I am put in mind of some words of Emily Bronte:-
No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere
I see Heaven’s glories shine
And faith shines equal, arming me from fear
Most certainly no coward soul – with courage and dignity Doreen has pursued justice for her son and created the Stephen Lawrence Trust which provides such wonderful opportunities for today’s young people.
Doreen is passionate about young people and this shines through every time you visit the centre but perhaps never more so than on that extraordinary morning when she ran with the Olympic torch and passed it on to our young mayor.
We are proud that Lewisham is home to the Stephen Lawrence Centre and proud that Doreen has accepted the Freedom of the Borough. It is the highest honour we can bestow and she joins a distinguished group of people who have all changed not only our borough but the wider world for the better.
Doreen’s elevation to the House of Lords means that there is now someone in Parliament who can speak out on the great issues of our time with a hard won authenticity that can only come from having faced all that the world can throw at them yet still being able to respond time after time with renewed passion and strength.
Let me conclude with a personal thank you to Doreen – your strength, your courage, your resilience serves as a beacon to all of us in public life – sometimes we may feel things are becoming difficult to cope with and wonder why we continue – you inspire us by your example and demonstrate to us on a daily basis the pettiness of our complaints. You have faced things we cannot imagine and come through to achieve so much.
Thank you and God Bless you.