Our inclusive poet

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A one-of-a-kind poet and human, Benjamin Zephaniah has sadly passed away. His unique talents and fabulous achievements displayed just how much of a pioneer he was for diversity and inclusion. A leader in his own way, Zephaniah gave every generation something to learn and enjoy.

Benjamin, born in Birmingham, son of a Barbadian postman and Jamaican nurse, defined the phrase ‘never give up’. It would be easy to just list his achievements, but he was much more than that, he has an incredible story. Zephania grew up dyslexic and left school unable to read or write – despite such barriers, he was resilient and determined. Zephaniah had a goal and a love for words. He used his passion for music to influence his own work, and as a result, he has left behind a legacy for us to remember.

Zephaniah had the special ability to cater his work to all ages and demographics. Personal experiences as a poet in residence at the chambers of Michael Mansfield and sitting on the inquiry into Bloody Sunday led to his famous poetry collection Too Black, Too Strong. A year later he followed this with a collection of poems celebrating the cultural diversity in Britain, under the title of We Are Britain! But it’s important to note how influential his written work was. He wrote poems and books for children and teenagers, famous pieces such as Talking Turkeys were seen in plenty of schools across Britain.

We know that if you mention Zephaniah’s name to an adult in the UK they will share nothing but great memories of reading his books and poetry as they grew up. His range and longevity is admirable – Zephaniah released books and poems from as early as 1980 up to the 2010s. But he didn’t stop there, he also pursued acting – with his first role in ‘Didn’t You Kill My Brother?’ in 1987, Benjamin went on to perform what many may consider his most famous role in Peaky Blinders as Jeremiah Jesus. A man who lived through multiple generations, allowed every person to feel included in reading or watching his work.

Benjamin Zephaniah never left his values behind. He was an avid speaker for anti-Black racism in Britain, as well as creating a video on the Olympic policing towards Black individuals in 2012, working alongside Newham Monitoring Project and Tower Hamlets Summer University.

In 2003, Zephaniah made a decision that at first, many couldn’t understand, but when hearing his ‘why’, the respect couldn’t have been bigger. He refused an OBE. In interviews he explained how it reminded him of what his family would have gone through with slavery and the British empire, simply stating he is ‘anti-empire’. With a proud smile on his face, he showed his humour, and in true British fashion, he refused the OBE with an ‘up yours’. It is fair to say Zephaniah was a pioneer for diversity and inclusion, who was always keen to fight for appreciation of Black British people.

Some would say Zephaniah was ahead of his time with what he stood for. From a young age, he became vegan, leading to later successes such as an honorary patron of The Vegan Society and launching an Animal Liberation Project. Zephaniah undoubtedly set a mountain high standard for any activist – he done so with passion and love.

Reminding ourselves of the brilliant work of Benjamin Zephaniah and the obstacles he faced, acknowledging his achievements is fitting – Zephaniah was a BBC award-winning Young Playwright, followed by 6 honorary doctorates across Universities in the UK, including University of Exeter, University of Westminster, and University of North London. Benjamin Zephaniah was also listed in the top 50 greatest postwar writers. He gained much deserved recognition for the cultural impact he left on numerous generations.

Benjamin Zephaniah is our inclusive poet. There wasn’t a single person he didn’t want to have an impact on, his likeable personality shone through his work and interviews, even with him no longer with us, we’ve seen the effect he has had. His beloved Aston Villa FC paid a moving tribute ahead of their recent match, displaying a video and one his great speeches upon the big screen in the stadium where fans celebrated and cheered the life of a proud Black British Icon.

Benjamin Zephaniah’s impact is timeless, and he shall be remembered as a man who never gave up on inclusion.


Who’s Who

I used to think nurses were women,

I used to think police were men,

I used to think poets were boring,

Until I become one.

Benjamin Zephaniah


SOS (Save Our Sons)

We Black men of England
Too proud to cry for shame,
Let’s cry a sea
Cry publicly,
Expose our very pain,
For Babylon the bandit
Is on our sisters trail,
The bad talk
And the cool walk
Will not keep us out of jail.

We Black men of England
Our guns are killing us,
How dare we?
Now hear me
How great is dangerous?
There’s a fascist and a druggist
Out to get our kith and kin,
Let silent guns
Save our sons
The power is within.

We Black men of England
Excel as if in sport
For our people,
Because some people
Want to see our face in court,
When we Black men of England
Look the mirror in the face,
Through our sisters eyes
We men shall rise
As proud sons of our race.

Benjamin Zephaniah

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