The 23-year-old son of two Rwandan genocide refugees is close to realising his dream of studying law at Cambridge University after raising more than £50,000 through crowdfunding.
Dylan Kawende was inspired to become a barrister by the botched investigation of the Stephen Lawrence murder, and set his heart on Cambridge because his father previously had to turn down an offer to study electronic engineering there because he could not afford it.
Kawende has faced his own fight to raise funds. He needs £60,000 for fees and accommodation because the law with senior status degree counts as a postgraduate qualification and does not qualify for a student loan.
By Monday afternoon he had raised just over £52,000 on GoFundMe, and the university has allowed him to take up the place in October in the expectation that he will hit his crowdfunding target or obtain scholarships.
Describing his motivation, Kawende said: “There’s the opportunity to be a positive steward for social change. The Stephen Lawrence case is an example of how the law has such an important role in key issues, social issues, like race relations and just general cultural progress.
“I’m very inspired by Doreen Lawrence, and her ability to bring about that change and to address the issues around institutional racism. I want to carry on that legacy.”
Kawende’s parents fled to the UK in 1994 shortly after the deaths of some of his mother’s relatives, including her grandmother, aunts, uncles and baby cousins in an arson attack by Tutsis.
More than 800,000 people, mainly Tutsis, were killed in Rwanda in an explosion of ethnic tensions with the majority Hutu community.
Kawende, who grew up in a deprived area of north-west London, said his parents had always encouraged him to “look beyond our limited resources and to read widely and to become as educated as possible”.
He won a Stephen Lawrence scholarship in his first year of a history and philosophy of science degree at University College London, graduating with a 2:1 last year.
He had hoped to start the law course at Cambridge last autumn but was only able to raise £24,000. However, he believes the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement has helped boost donations this year.
“I think now people are becoming more aware that protests have their place and are an important tool to address these issues and to raise awareness, but a more long-term sustainable plan would be to put people like myself in positions of influence of power, and to just raise the aspirations of the wider community,” he said.
“Last year I did raise a substantial amount, but this year I received an overwhelming amount of support and people have seen the link between my campaign and and the issues around police brutality and just wider systemic change that needs to take place.”
Black people are underrepresented at the bar and make up just 1.1% of QCs, according to the Bar Standards Board’s latest report.
Kawende said he was determined to focus on the opportunities the bar had to offer, to “take pride in my individuality and to wear the complexity of who I am constantly, no matter the circumstances”.