UWE awards honorary degree to Paul Stephenson OBE

Issue date: 24 November 2009


University of the West of England The University of the West of England will award the Honorary Degree of Master of Education to Paul Stephenson OBE in recognition of his substantial contribution to pioneering work in race relations and the extension of opportunity to socially excluded young people.

The Honorary Degree will be conferred at the Awards Ceremony of the School of Education at Bristol Cathedral on Thursday 26 November at 10.30.

Paul Stephenson was born in Essex and educated at Forest Gate Secondary School in London, where he was the only black child and one of the few black children in the Forest Gate area. In 1953 he became a Royal Air Force cadet and completed his GCE 'O' levels whilst completing national service, subsequently completing a Diploma in Youth and Community Studies at West Hill College, now part of the University of Birmingham.

Arriving in Bristol in 1962, Paul Stephenson was Bristol's first black social worker. He founded the West Indian Development Council to campaign against racism in Bristol, and in particular the ban on the employment of black people to work on Bristol buses. Within six months, the campaign was successful and the ban was lifted. Paul Stephenson continued his campaigning against racism, and in 1964 refused to leave a public house which refused to serve black people. He was arrested and in the subsequent court case, the court accepted that racism was at the heart of the exclusion and he was acquitted; the manager of the public house lost his job. His campaigns helped to pave the way for the first Race Relations Act, which was passed in 1965. Forty years later, the Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality held a reception for Paul Stephenson to mark his contribution to the passing of the Act.

In 1964, Paul Stephenson was made President of Bristol West Indies Cricket Club. In the same year he left Bristol to work in Coventry as a Senior Community Relations Officer until 1972, when he moved to London to work for the Commission for Race Equality, before returning to Bristol in 1992.

Paul Stephenson was appointed the first black member of the Sports Council and whilst in London worked with Muhammad Ali setting up the Muhammad Ali Sports Development Association (MASDA) in Brixton which encouraged black children to participate in sports they were not usually associated with such as tennis, angling and table tennis. Paul Stephenson chaired the Cleo Lane School's Music Awards from 1977 to 1982.

Paul Stephenson campaigned against apartheid in South Africa and was given an award from the United Nations in 1974. He declared his support of the Abolition 200 commemorations and chaired Bristol City Council's Committee overseeing this event. Recently he founded the Bristol Black Archives Partnership, of which he is Patron.

Paul Stephenson received the West Indian Community Publishers Award in 1988, the Bristol City Council Community Award for Achievement and Services Rendered to the Black Community in 1988, the Bristol West African and Caribbean Council Community Achievers' Award in 1996, and Bristol City Council's One Person Can Make a Difference Award in 2006. In December 2007, Paul Stephenson became the 50th person since 1888 to receive the Freedom of the City of Bristol and the first black Freeman.

Paul Stephenson said, “The honorary degree conferred on me by the University of the West of England is greatly appreciated and I hope will give inspiration to many of Bristol's black and ethnic minorities in their attempts to overcome racial intolerance and seek to make Bristol a haven of hope and understanding for all its citizens.”

On 11 April 2009, he was awarded an OBE by Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle, for service concerning Equality and Community Relations.

-ENDS-

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