Many of our year 9 students have been studying the works of the quirky and inspirational author and poet Dr Benjamin Zephaniah.
His passion for poetry is infectious and certainly shines a different light on poetry: ‘Dis poetry is like a riddim dat drops, de tongue fires a riddim dat shoots like shots’ is the opening line of ‘Dis Poetry’, a poem that year 9 particularly enjoyed thanks to its rap-like rhythms.
9Y1 have enjoyed several political, philosophical and intellectual discussions inspired by Zephaniah’s sometimes controversial subject matter. His novel ‘Refugee Boy’ and poems ‘The British’ and ‘We Refugees’, for example sparked passionate debates about the ongoing refugee crisis, with students voicing their concerns in mature and insightful ways. They have also written their own Zephaniah-inspired poems on a variety of topics including: diversity in Leicester, the disadvantages of social media, the formation of an identity, and the constraints of society.
During one lesson, students wrote questions for Dr Benjamin Zephaniah about the issues raised in his work. Students thus had the opportunity to expand on their prior knowledge, have their voice heard and appreciate the responsibilities of being in the public eye. The best eight questions were emailed to the writer who responded within 24 hours! Dr Zephaniah must have been impressed by their questions to provide such a quick yet beautifully detailed response. 9Y1 should be proud of themselves.
The questions sent and responses of Benjamin Zephaniah are attached below:
Dear Alicia, Casey, Leonie, Karolina, Oliver G, Diego, Fidele, and Oliver C,
I’m traveling at the moment, and a bit rushed, so I hope I make sense in my answers to your questions.
Stay cool, and keep it real.
1. In Refugee Boy, justice seem to be one of the main themes. When Mr. Kelo is murdered, the killer is not found. Was there a reason for this? (Casey)
One of the reasons people become refugees is that they cannot get justice. The point is that they have tried and tired many times and they just can’t be heard. Then there is the fact that they might fear for their lives because they are the wrong religion, colour, ethic group, or sex. So to make the story realistic it had to be made clear that Mr kelo, (and his family), are victims of injustice.
2. Do you think that justice is actually served in Refugee Boy? (Oliver C)
In the end justice is served in that Alem is allowed to stay, but at what price? He has lost his parents and his country, so his victory is a hollow one. He would like to have his parents and his country and not be in court at all.
3. Why did you portray Alem as someone who enjoys school so much when you yourself did not? (Alicia)
When I am writing a novel I must create many characters. In fact I like creating characters that are very different to me, so they don’t speak like me and their likes and dislikes can be very different to mine. I am lucky because I am a poet as well as a novelist, so I have plenty of space to be me in my poetry.
4. Do you think refugees are portrayed correctly by the media today? (Oliver G)
The biggest problem I have with the way refugees are portrayed in the media is the way they are seen as hoards, or swarms. When people use these words the human beings who are suffering are dehumanised, and if they are dehumanised many people won’t care about them the way they care about their own families. The other issue for me is the way our governments will be quick to send arms, or armies into a country, or help destabilise it in other ways, and then claim that they don’t understand why they want to come to Europe, or why they would want to leave their countries at all.
5. Why do you think refugees are seen as bad people by many? Do you think the media labels them as trouble-makers? (Diego)
Deep down I think most people understand that refugees are just normal people who have come across difficult times, but some sections of the media will concentrate on the negative. There is good and bad in all people, but if all you hear about a people is negative, you will think negative every time you think of them.
6. When do you think refugees will stop being labelled as trouble makers? I had asked myself this question and could not find an answer. (Fidele)
This is a very difficult question to answer. So much of what people feel is related to the way we receive our news. I dream of a day when money is not the biggest motivator of the way we conduct our lives, and when compassion is the driving force. I have to be realistic and say that seems a long way off. Still I never stop working towards that day, even if I don’t see it myself. We have to be able to imagine a better world, and then we have to try to attain it. But it takes time.
7. Why you are so passionate about this certain topic (refugees)? (Karolina)
I love people, I love animals, and I love life. I don’t know why I’m so passionate about these things; I just can’t stand to see people and animals suffering. I love this planet, which is also suffering, so I’m just trying to do my bit.
8. How important do you think it is for people to be educated? What do you think the solution is for oversubscribed schools? (Leonie)
When corrupt governments want to oppress or even completely get rid of a people, they take control of the media, burn books, and take control of the universities, because they know that knowledge is power, and to spread knowledge is powerful. They don’t want people at street level to be powerful, so it’s in their interest to keep us ignorant. Education is liberation. When you understand the forces that are holding you back will not allow them to hold you back. Education should not just be about passing exams, you also have to learn to think for yourself.