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remembering a great man:
Benjamin Zephaniah
1958 – 2023

7 march 2024

Benjamin Zephaniah.jpg
PARMINDER SEKHON, CEO of NAZ pays tribute to the legendary poet and writer who died on 7 December 2023. 


Benjamin Zephaniah wasn't just a poet, activist, and literary figure – he was a force of nature. His voice, booming with righteous anger and infectious joy, resonated across continents, challenging injustices and igniting hope. Though his passing at 65 leaves a void, his legacy burns bright.

Benjamin was more than words on a page. He tore poetry from its confines, weaving it into performances that pulsed with the rhythms of his Jamaican heritage and the struggles of the marginalized. He wasn't afraid to hold power accountable, his words sharp arrows against racism, discrimination, and oppression. But his fight wasn't fueled by anger alone. He also possessed a boundless generosity, his spirit lifting hearts and inspiring countless voices to rise in unison.
 

In October 2013, NAZ had the pleasure of working with Benjamin when he wrote a specially commissioned poem "Great Men Like Us" for our second nOSCARS event, which was created to highlight the contributions made to increase HIV awareness and knowledge within Black and Brown Global Majority Communities and to speak out against HIV stigma, homophobia and intersectional inequality. The poem was featured in our accompanying brochure.  

Benjamin left behind a nation, and indeed, a world, forever marked by his words. His legacy isn't confined to dusty archives; it lives on in the hearts of those who dare to fight for justice, and who believe in the power of language to heal and transform.

Let his words continue to be a torch, lighting the way for a future brimming with equality and compassion for all.

"It's three months since Benjamin passed away. We miss the clarity of his voice and the courage of his character and soul. The world needs people of Benjamin's integrity and principles. We need writers, artists, and activists now more than ever.

You will be remembered as a pioneering poet, along with the greats. May schoolchildren always know your name and may your legacy burn bright."

- Parminder Sekhon, Chief Executive Officer, NAZ

great men like us


We found the courage to fight off years of slavery;
And years of persecution by the beast,
We found the courage to see through the hypocrisy;
It was we who caused those slavery days to cease.


We found the strength to fight colonisation;
They took our land and then they changed our name,
We lived through hate and real discrimination;
Against all the odds we never died of shame.


And now great men like us stand at this crossroads
And look towards the future wondering,
Are we destined to bare much heavier loads?
Are we destined for much more struggling?


Yes now great men like us stand on the corner;
Still announcing that we have a dream,
Remembering just how great we great men were;
And now announcing that we have a scheme.


Another scheme to create wealth?
Let’s have a scheme called know thy self,
Not just a scheme to get that car;
But one to find out who you are,
Your threads might well be sharp, well crisp,
But what of your relationships?
Your loves
Your fears
Your own body,
Your status man,
Your
Honesty.


We find the courage to fight off racist people;
With sporting prowess we win loads of gold,
We find the strength to fight all kinds of evil;
But there are some home truths that must be told


We must stop fighting over tunes and postcodes;
Be examples for our daughters and our sons,
Stop fighting over who we think owns the roads
And stop killing ourselves with drugs, blades and guns.


Find the wisdom to dream like Martin Luther King;
Find the strength to fight the fight like Malcolm X,
But don’t forget to care for those that you’re loving
And be proud to tell the world you have safer sex.


Keep it real and never just be a statistic
We have to stay in touch with our bodies,
Because the truth is when you check it realistic;
We can save ourselves, we blessed refugees.


And what’s the use of pride and wealth
If we don’t have knowledge of self?

My dear brother
We live a lie,
If we can’t look us in the eye,
And can you truly say you’re strong
If you treat mind and body wrong?
Come
Check us out,
Come
Check us in,
Come check the lives that we’re living.

 

We found the courage to fight off years of slavery;
We were warriors; we had a warrior’s stance,
So rise up black men, now let us not be lazy;
My brothers, let’s not die of ignorance.
 

We need the courage to take care of our brothers;
We need us, for we have nobody else,
We need the courage to really love our sisters;
And inner strength to take care of ourselves.


© Benjamin Zephaniah

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