From politics to the power of love: in conversation with Lord Boateng

Bristol alumnus, Lord Boateng (LLB 1973, Hon LLD 2007) has made history multiple times during his ground-breaking political career. In 1987 he became one of the first Black MPs to be elected in the UK and went on to become the UK’s first Black cabinet minister in 2002.

While at the University, Paul Boateng was a committee member of the Students’ Law Club and a member of the Council of the Students’ Union. After graduating with a degree in Law in 1973, Paul qualified and completed his articles in London. He later returned to Bristol to represent defendants in the St Paul’s uprising of 1980 and thereafter continued to practice in courts in Bristol, London, Liverpool and the Midlands right up until 1997.

In April, Lord Boateng joined us in conversation to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the University’s Be More Empowered for Success programme – which exists to ensure that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students thrive at Bristol. In this event, he shared his wisdom, looked back on his time as a student and gave us some invaluable life advice. Here are some of our favourite Lord Boateng quotes from the event – from politics to the power of love.

On getting into politics
“I never intended to become a politician, that was the furthest thing from my mind. But legal activism…that led me to a place where I said: Look, it’s not enough to simply be seeking justice in the courts, you have to try and embed justice – social justice, economic justice, criminal justice – within the system itself. And that meant getting involved politically.”

On enacting change
“To succeed in moving the dial, you have to form alliances. You have to seek to bring people together.”

On being elected as one of the UK’s first Black MPs
“The people, when given the option, did vote regardless of colour. So all the excuses that were made at the time for not selecting Black candidates – that white people wouldn’t vote for Black people, that you’d lose the seat if you put up a Black candidate. All of that was proved to be false because the people made their own judgement, and they made their judgement on merit.”

On challenging systemic racism
“There’s still systemic racism in our society. It’s a fact of life. But what I know is, we don’t have to accept it as a fact and that it is possible to make a difference. Change never comes about because of one person. It never comes about because of elites. Change comes about because people determine that it should happen… All of us have the capacity and the potential to be change makers. It’s when we recognise that that change happens.”

On connecting with others
“We like to stay in our comfort zones. But my experience of life is that it’s only by opening yourself up to other experiences and to other cultures, it’s only by being prepared to engage with the ‘other’ that you truly fulfil yourself… Make connections between people of different genders, of different races, of different sexualities. When you do the world becomes so much better.”

On race and education
“We know that within the education system, there are real disparities in terms of outcomes for Black and Asian pupils. We know too that when it comes to headships and senior teacher positions there’s also disadvantage and discrimination. Now that’s fact. That is fact from the Government’s own Race Disparity Audit – and I keep a copy by me at all times! It’s very important that we recognise that this is not Black and Asian people taking on the mantle of victimisation. This is what the facts show – and it has to be addressed.”

On love
“We need to love one another and we need to open ourselves up to the power of love. [For me] the love of God is part of it but it’s also the love of our partners in life, our families, our neighbours, our communities and of the wider world.

There’s a lot of bad stuff out there. There’s a lot of viciousness out there and there is evil. But love overcomes all, it really does. We have to love ourselves…but we have to open ourselves up also to loving others. When we do that there’s nothing that we cannot achieve together.”

Click here to find out more about the University’s Be More Empowered for Success programme.   

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