[an error occurred while processing this directive][an error occurred while processing this directive]

BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

28 October 2014

BBC Homepage
» 

Contact Us

You are in: > Handsworth Spirit

Benjamin Zephaniah

Benjamin Zephaniah

Handsworth Spirit

"Handsworth's not what it used to be" says Benjamin Zephaniah. The Birmingham poet talks exclusively to BBC WM's Mandisa Gordon about the changes in the area he still calls home.

Benjamin Zephaniah

It's a Friday afternoon in March and I'm driving through Handsworth with Benjamin Zephaniah. He's full of stories and throughout our journey reminisces about his experiences in the area he once called 'the Jamaican capital of Europe'.

Memories don't live like people do

We walk through Handsworth park and Benjamin remembers his childhood.

Benjamin @ Handsworth Park

Benjamin @ Handsworth Park

"I remember it always being hot, red hot. Lots of young militant Rastas mainly on push bikes sitting here. Sometimes we'd get the drums out and start chanting Rasta songs, and just have what we called gatherings and reasonings.

"People would bring food, or yood, ital yood as we would call it, and we would sit down and reason. That's one of my strongest memories."

"Handsworth for me is my playground; it's where I grew up. It's where I learnt all my skills, my communication skills, my hustling skills, my poetic skills, everything."

Benjamin @ Handsworth Park

Benjamin @ Handsworth Park

You can't stop change

But things can't always stay the same, and Benjamin recognises this. A lot of his friends that lived here have moved out to places like Erdington and Solihull, but he doesn't think they made a better choice.

"The reality is it may be nicer where they've moved to, it may be quieter, it may be a bit more suburban, but it's not really a community, it's just houses that they live in.

Benjamin

Benjamin

"What we used to have in Handsworth was different, it was much more of a community. Whatever you wanted done you could get done. If you wanted to get your house painted, you wouldn't have to go to the newspaper, you would know someone, who would know someone that would do it.

"Whatever you wanted, you could get it done and you can't do that in the places they've moved to."

Where's the Community spirit gone?

Benjamin feels that the community spirit, the togetherness of the black community has gone, and he is not the first to think or feel this.

Benjamin Zephaniah

"The black community may not be rich but it's not as poor as it used to be financially, and as it has become more settled the community spirit has broken up. It's a very sad thing to say, but that's the way it is.

"It doesn't matter how rich we get, or how affluent we get, we should still keep the community spirit. If we can't meet together in Handsworth Park, we should meet together in people's homes or find buildings to do it in."

Black Birmingham

When we were driving through Birmingham, Benjamin commented on the changes to the city's skyline. He feels that the African Caribbean presence and contribution can not be seen.

Benjamin in Handsworth

Benjamin in Handsworth

"When black people have to do something we have to hire a hall with restrictions. The communities that have moved in after us have left their mark on the skyline.

"I don't have the finances to set up a Benjamin Zephaniah centre for the arts. But as much as possible I will certainly get involved in debates that can move our community on.

Benjamin @ Handsworth Park

Benjamin @ Handsworth Park

"If there are things I can do physically, I'll try my best, but I'm only one person. We need an army of people who want really do something for the community, rather then thinking it's some abstract concept."

Moving forward

Anyone who gets a chance to sit down and talk to this poet and author knows how passionate he is about his roots and community. He was particularly disappointed about the outcome of the disturbances in October last year.

"If rumour and speculation can bring us together to riot, why can't it bring us together to do business? I would just like to see people moving forward more.

Benjamin @ Handsworth Park

Benjamin @ Handsworth Park

"I'm not here that much, I dip in and out, but everywhere I go I always say I'm from Handsworth. Black people created civilisation, so why can't we start achieving things here?"

It was nice spending a day with Benjamin. Despite his success he still remains very humble, and has managed to achieve what others would die for; acclaim in the mainstream whilst remaining credible in his own community.

LINK UP MANDISA-LINK UP MANDISA-LINK UP MANDISA

Mandisa

Mandisa

DO YOU HAVE A STORY?

I was born and raised in Birmingham, and take a personal interest in the everyday lives of local people. I want to hear your stories.

If you would like me to highlight your concerns, joy, pain, whatever...
Just give me a call or an email.

Email: Mandisa.gordon@bbc.co.uk

Mobile: 07866 684 506

Post: BBC WM, The Mailbox, Birmingham B1 1RF

last updated: 06/08/2008 at 18:48
created: 24/03/2006

Have Your Say

What's your opinion? Leave your views below..........

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

SEE ALSO

You are in: > Handsworth Spirit



About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy