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Benjamin Zephaniah, remembered by influential figures such as Michael Rosen and Kae Tempest, was hailed as a hero by countless individuals.

Michael Rosen.

Michael Rosen encouraged people to view the world from the perspective of those who are oppressed.

, Rudyard Kipling, was the first English-language writer to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907.

The Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Rudyard Kipling, a renowned British author and poet, in 1907, making him the first English-language recipient.

Benjamin was adored by countless individuals around the globe. His blend of verse, novels, sagacity, wit, and mere presence captivated and delighted us. I first encountered him during his early days in the poetry scene, performing a piece about his mother, delivering his words in a unique Brummie-Caribbean accent. It was a privilege and pleasure to collaborate with him multiple times throughout the years, creating videos, radio shows, and when he hosted an award ceremony organized by the British Council to recognize outstanding English teaching. On this occasion and many others, he enjoyed reflecting on his journey from a barely literate teenager who got into trouble, to a celebrated figure at the highest levels for his literary accomplishments and charisma.

His poetry is imbued with strength, compassion, and conviction. He adhered to Rastafarian beliefs and customs, and enjoyed discussing their significance to him. I hope he doesn’t mind me noting that his reverence for all living things reminded me of William Blake. He will surely be remembered for his appearances on Question Time, where he skillfully and cleverly outshined experienced politicians with his remarks. I once inquired about his technique, how he was able to convey complex ideas in concise and seemingly effortless ways. He responded by saying that he imagined conversing with his mother: how would they discuss it, he pondered?

He authored stories targeted towards young adults. Refugee Boy, as the title suggests, follows the perspective of a refugee and the challenges faced by those in his community as they try to secure asylum for him. A notable highlight in the novel is when the boy ponders on the “issues” that the British boys nearby seem to have in comparison to his own struggles.

Benjamin consistently encouraged individuals to view the world from the perspective of the oppressed.

Several of his amazing performances can be found online. Take a moment to view them as a way to honor him. Out of all of them, my personal favorite is Rong Radio. I once inquired about where he composes his poems, to which he responded, “I don’t write them down. They come to me while I’m out running.”

This news has left me heartbroken. I had great admiration, respect, and love for Benjamin, and I gained a lot of knowledge from him.

Colin Grant.

Colin Grant was known as the poet of the people.

, Antony Beevor, is known for his bestselling books about World War II.

Antony Beevor, an English writer and scholar, is renowned for his highly successful publications on the events of World War II.

20 years ago, during the Hay Festival, it was pouring rain when I first laid eyes on Benjamin Zephaniah and was captivated by him. The tent was packed with a large crowd, seemingly not there for a literary or racial event, but rather a spiritual one. Despite the rain outside, it felt like eternal sunshine inside.

Benjamin was the trailblazing epitome not of the reductive “ethnic writer” but of the global majority writer who refused to be categorised. In any event, though kind of ordinary, his uniqueness – a karate, yoga and dominoes-loving Rastafarian poet and storyteller – made it impossible to box him in.

He was seen as the solution for young black writers who faced rejection from literary authorities, who believed that writing about social issues such as poverty, discrimination, and racism could not be profitable unless it was straightforward and comical.

It was also acknowledged that there was a man who had a troublesome past but had turned his life around and found redemption through literature; that writing has the power to change both the writer and the audience.

Benjamin was a Rastafarian who embraced love and rejected separatism. Unlike some who isolate themselves, his writing was open and welcoming to all, demonstrating how one can connect with diverse audiences through poetry and prose. He embodied the Jamaican term “simple sense man,” capable of connecting with both youth and adults alike.

Some were uncomfortable and accused him of not being a true, educated poet due to the apparent simplicity of his writing. However, if you took the time to truly listen, adjust your vision, or wipe away tears, you would discover a writer with a powerful and courageous emotional understanding. Benjamin’s spoken and written words embodied an exceptional normalcy. He was a poet for the people, a trailblazer who shared meals with all.

Kae Tempest.

Kae Tempest: “His carving has formed a trail for those of us who come after him.”

British spoken word performer and poet

He was a kind and patient soul and I always felt I had his focus when I spoke to him, which is a rare gift to be given, especially for a young poet when being granted a moment to engage with a renowned one. He was always energetic in his conversation and thoughtful in his manner. The way he carved has become a path for us who follow him. In gratitude and with a heavy heart I wish his family peace and send courage to everyone who’s mourning him. What a legacy he leaves behind; a body of work that lasts for ever in words that matter to people.

Diane Abbott.

Diane Abbott stated that his significant contributions to literature were paralleled by his ongoing involvement in political activism.

Labour politician

Benjamin Zephaniah was a talented individual known for his skills in poetry, writing, and performing. However, he was also a significant figure in the overall cultural landscape. In the 1980s, when he gained widespread recognition, there were several qualities that set him apart from others. One such quality was his distinct Birmingham accent. During this time, many writers and poets hailed from prestigious universities like Oxford and Cambridge, and often shed their regional accents to conform with the literary elite. Despite this trend, Benjamin remained true to himself and never altered his manner, appearance, or speaking style in order to fit in with the established literary community.

He was among the initial Rastafarians to gain attention in the public eye. Although it may seem ordinary now, at that time, sporting dreadlocks as a notable figure was considered an act of defiance. He had a strong connection to his roots in general. Despite being born in Handsworth, the hub of Birmingham’s Jamaican community, he physically left it but held onto his working-class Jamaican identity in his heart. His work was greatly influenced by the music and culture of his home country.

Benjamin was highly involved in politics, particularly during the race riots of the 1980s. As a black man, he had typical interactions with law enforcement and the criminal justice system. His political beliefs were evident in his work, including his 1982 album Rasta which featured the Wailers and paid tribute to Nelson Mandela. In 2003, he declined an OBE and was a strong advocate for the rights of Palestinians. His impressive literary accomplishments were complemented by his dedication to political activism, making his passing a significant loss.

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Carol Ann Duffy.

Carol Ann Duffy said, “He was ahead of his time by decades.”

of the United Kingdom

The person in question is a poet and playwright from Scotland who previously held the title of poet laureate in the United Kingdom.

Benjamin Zephaniah was a renowned poet and activist who used his words to advocate for children, prisoners, marginalized groups, animals, teenagers, health workers, and those fighting for freedom. He was a pioneer in his field, known for his powerful performances and use of dub poetry. He was also a passionate advocate for equality, standing against racism, corruption, and the establishment, and fighting for justice and humanity.

His writing had a clever, poetic, and passionate quality that greatly impacted British poetry in a positive way. He was a crucial figure who was highly admired, making this a sorrowful day for the poetry community.

Simon Hattenstone.

Simon Hattenstone said that the true radicalism of this person stemmed from their lack of awareness of their own radicalism.

Guardian features writer

I have not encountered a public figure or celebrity quite as undeniably virtuous as Benjamin Zephaniah. He was highly talented in poetry, pickpocketing (in his youth), writing novels, playing music, teaching martial arts, and being a professor. However, his most prominent attribute was his kindness.

I first met him 20 years ago, when his cousin Mikey Powell, who suffered from psychosis, was killed by the police at 38 years old. Many people believe that police brutality against black individuals and deaths in custody are a recent occurrence. However, Benjamin and his family (his brother Tippa Naphtali has been tirelessly advocating for justice for Mikey) knew from personal experience that this issue has existed for decades and is not exclusive to America – Britain is no different. Like George Floyd, Mikey was suffocated by the police and died while crying out for his mother and saying he couldn’t breathe. This tragic event received little coverage in British media. Mikey’s death had a profound impact on Benjamin and his family.

This event was particularly significant because it evoked memories of the writer’s own encounter with law enforcement. In the late 1970s, he suffered severe physical abuse at a police station in Birmingham, which nearly took his life. He shared with me three years ago: “I distinctly remember thinking that I was going to die here. It wasn’t a mere thought of possibility, but rather an acceptance of my impending death.” Despite being only 17 years old at the time, he calmly contemplated the logistics of his death, including how his mother would find out and if he would receive a proper burial. This traumatic experience inspired one of his most powerful poems, “Dis Policeman Keeps on Kicking Me to Death.”

Benjamin maintained a youthful appearance and energy, continuing to play 11-a-side football alongside people in their twenties well into his 60s. His rebellious nature remained strong throughout his unfortunately brief life. What set him apart as truly radical was his lack of awareness of his own radicalism. He never boasted or acted superior, simply staying true to his own beliefs and defying categorization.

He discussed topics such as Palestine, police brutality, Christopher Columbus’s reliance on slavery, and Rastafarianism long before they became popular issues. Despite his dyslexia, he also wrote about his vegan lifestyle at a time when it was considered uncool for rockstars. Additionally, he openly shared his struggles with infertility, breaking the taboo for men to talk about it.

In his autobiography, The Life and Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah, he revealed two significant events from his past: physically harming a disabled classmate in school (for which he later apologized) and hitting a girlfriend during his youth (he later became an ambassador for domestic abuse charities). He always spoke the truth, even when it was not necessary to do so.

Benjamin was highly admired by a diverse group of individuals including punks, rastas, students, gangsters, children, and senior citizens. His likability may have been attributed to his natural demeanor rather than any intentional efforts. He would often live a solitary and spiritual existence in Chen Jia Gou, a small village in China, where he would engage in tai chi with the village elders.

Despite the difficult and desperate situation, he never gave up hope. When I inquired about his resilience, he responded with a typically Zephanian answer, which was both straightforward and complex, touching on elements of logic, politics, morality, past events, and literature. He simply stated, “I have faith in the victory of good over evil. It’s important to maintain hope.” He then referenced Maya Angelou’s famous poem, “Still I Rise,” explaining that oppressors despise when they try to suppress us, but we will continue to rise up.

Joseph Coelho.

“We are mourning the loss of a great person, Joseph Coelho.”

British poet and children’s laureate

Upon graduating from university, I had the opportunity to speak with Benjamin for the first time. At the time, I was working as an assistant producer for Theatre Centre and performing poetry in London. When I picked up the phone and heard his distinct and powerful voice on the other end, I couldn’t help but feel starstruck. Though I didn’t have the chance to spend much time with him, I always admired his writing and presence in performance from a distance. He had the ability to make both children and adults laugh and think. His impact on the poetry community and beyond has been immense, demonstrating the power of words to captivate, entertain, and challenge. We have lost a remarkable figure and a source of inspiration in the worlds of poetry, activism, and the arts.

Abdul Malik Al Nasir.

Abdul Malik Al Nasir described him as an older sibling figure.

A British individual who works as a journalist, writes books, and performs spoken word poetry.

I was raised in foster care, as was Benjamin. We both came out of it with trauma and limited literacy skills, and turned to poetry as a way to improve our literacy. In 2004, I successfully sued Liverpool city council for my time in care and used the money to create a film called Word Up – from Ghetto to Mecca. In the film, Benjamin drew comparisons between my experiences and his own. We were both inspired by the works of civil rights activist Gil Scott-Heron. Our activism was driven by our personal experiences with racial discrimination. Poetry served as a platform for us to express our pain and offer solutions.

While filming with Benjamin, he became a close friend. Whenever I faced any difficulties or had questions that I needed guidance on, I would turn to Benjamin for advice – he was like an older brother to me. Just a few weeks ago, amidst a media frenzy surrounding my research on tracing my ancestry back through slavery, I was threatened with a lawsuit. It was then that Benjamin reached out to me and provided the contact information for a barrister who could represent me pro bono. That’s just the kind of caring person Benjamin was. Despite our professional relationship, he always prioritized our friendship and was there for me during times of distress. He selflessly put aside his own personal matters to ensure that I was alright. His passing is a great loss to our nation.

Source: theguardian.com