OBV Profile: Steve Stephenson

Unbeknown to many outside the equality field, the current director of Race Equality and Human Rights Service (REHRS) in Bristol has over 30 years of experience championing the cause for an integrated Britain, where inequality is rooted out and civil participation by people from all backgrounds is encouraged.

In early 2006, following the demise of the Bristol Race Equality Council, a core group of non-profit organisations, which includes Bristol City Council, The Black Development Agency, Support Against Racist Incidents and Avon and Bristol Law Centre, came together to establish the Race Equality and Human Rights Service. As its appointed director, Stephenson is responsible for setting the broad strategic direction of the equality body.

He said: "Britain is now more diverse - ethnically, racially and culturally. Diversity has brought benefits. But change and migration has also brought challenges. And so clarifying how we promote, challenge and deliver race equality and human rights is more vital than ever."

Unlike its London counterpart, the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, the REHRS does not have the resources to challenge all forms of discrimination and so its remit extends to tackling both race inequality and human rights issues, but through what Stephenson describes as 'the lens of race'.

He explains: "By adopting what's called a 'multi-strand' approach to equalities and human rights, we aim to promote new ways of working with the black community because we recognise that they may face multiple discrimination. For example, a black disabled person may feel discriminated against because of her race and her disability. We need to tackle both issues, but with the greater emphasis on race."

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, on Human Rights Day (10 December 1953), it would seem that Stephenson was fated to be a pioneer of equality advocacy.

After graduating from Hertfordshire University with a BA in social work, Stephenson embarked on a career in the social services. As one of only a handful of qualified black social workers in the sector, he soon recognised that it was ridden with issues of inequality. He began challenging racism and discrimination in employment and future roles has required him to support others in speaking out against it.

In his long standing career in equality advocacy, Stephenson has worked as a university lecturer, community worker, and a sports and charity promoter. He is also the author of the book, Cold Arrival Life in a Second Homeland, which chronicles the history of black people in pre and post war Britain.

Despite being granted a string of accolades and an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List in 1996, the political maverick insists that his most revered achievement was using his influence to force the acquittal of Jamaican teenager, David Anthony Grant, who was wrongly convicted of murder in Jamaica in the 1980s.

"The evidence showed it was a miscarriage of justice. After civil rights groups and an MP failed to get his release, David's mother approached me. I teamed up with a lawyer and we both used our influences to get the Prime Minister of Jamaica to free David in 1988."

Despite pushing towards the retirement age, the 57 year-old says that he will continue to fight 'the cause' until Britain is fully integrated and racial inequality is a thing of the past - a vision that was set out by the disbanded Commission for Racial Equality.

"Despite the current race legislation we have only had small incremental changes. It's been hard to shift people's attitudes. This is why we have to continue to challenge this form of inequality."

As a community champion Stephenson has had and exemplary 30-year employment record and continues to play a vital role in areas of equality and human rights.