Black Lawyers Matter, West Indian Sports and Social Club, Westwood Street, Moss Side, 5.5.16 UPDATED

Why are so few Black men going to University to study law?

Dr Ornette D Clennon

Here is an update, (13.9.17) on last year’s event.

Before the public meeting at Westwood Street I took part in a pre-meeting University of Manchester seminar, where we explored some of the issues that are bound to this question from the perspective of academia.

Here was my position:

The Role of Community in Law?

The key for engaging black communities in Higher Education and especially in Law is the quality of engagement with grassroots black communities. We are fortunate that many black communities have education-led social enterprises known as Supplementary Schools or Saturday Schools, so, an intense passion and interest in education already exists and has existed for many decades in our communities. I am particularly interested in the implicit liberatory nature or critical pedagogy of supplementary education where it often serves as an important and much needed counter-narrative to mainstream education that is important for both community and personal development. I wonder if Esther Stanford’s concept of “socio-legal consciousness”, as introduced to me by the eminent practitioner and community activist in the criminal justice field, Charles Critchlow, is the Law’s equivalent of a critical pedagogy that can raise legal literacy within communities? Since we are living in a socio-political climate of fear (of terror), it looks as though we are having to accept the incremental need for the curtailing of our civil liberties. It would then appear that a “socio-legal consciousness” is exactly what is needed by BAME communities, to help them push back against the social alienation and hyper-surveillance they face. As one example of “socio-legal consciousness” in action, my community partners have made me aware of initiatives in Manchester such as the Community Monitoring programme that trains volunteers to act as independent observers to support communities by giving them a good grounding in what people’s rights are when they come into contact with the Police on the streets.

I am also aware that the University of Manchester already runs a community law advice centre, which is under the leadership of Dinah Crystal OBE that uses students (under staff supervision) as legal advisors, ostensibly so that they can see the law in action. I wonder if there would be any scope for this innovative initiative to include the facilitation of a “socio-legal consciousness” within the communities the law centre serves? This for me is an important question because it could lead to a potentially expanded view of employment opportunities for Law graduates. In view of the low employment rate of BAME law graduates (for complex structural reasons), would there be a case for exploring law-based “enterprise” opportunities for law graduates? I am thinking about enterprise opportunities that were less about entering the legal professions and perhaps more about creating a community base for (qualified) legal practitioners, who were not direct members of the legal professions, in the context of facilitating a “socio-legal consciousness”. I am aware that Charles Crichlow has already identified a need for structured community involvement in developing legal literacy and a possible creation of a new breed of community-based law professional.

With the essential help of our widening participation teams and organisations such as IntoUniversity (who liaise with supplementary schools and HEIs to arrange tailored visits), we have the opportunity to explore these liberatory ideas and approaches with our education-led grassroots community enterprises, namely our supplementary schools. Targeted work with our supplementary schools would inevitably compliment the work we already do in our mainstream schools as part of our outreach activities (potentially building partnerships between the two). However, I believe that since supplementary schools are in the vanguard of exploring critical pedagogies to empower their communities (especially against the excesses of the PREVENT programme), they are also ideally placed to explore a “socio-legal consciousness” as part of their drive for achieving social justice for their communities.

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