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Zephaniah goes back to his roots

DONATION: Zephaniah with the typewriter he gave to a Birmingham museum

INTERNATIONALLY ACCLAIMED poet Benjamin Zephaniah is to come to his hometown tonight (Oct 19) to deliver the annual Anthony Walker Memorial Lecture.

The annual lecture, organised by the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in conjunction with the Walker family and the Anthony Walker Foundation, is held in honour of Anthony, 18, who was murdered in a racially motivated attack in Liverpool in July 2005.

The event is being held at Birmingham Council House from 5.00pm and 8.00 pm.

Tonight will also see the launch of a new schools pack on tackling racist and religious hate crime, the result of collaboration between the NUT, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Anthony Walker Foundation

Zephaniah also recently officially opened Birmingham’s new £8.9 million exhibition about the city’s people and its history.

The writer, who calls himself ‘a bit of a troublemaker’, returned to his Birmingham roots to be special guest at the city’s prestigious museum and art gallery, which has been transformed by the ambitious permanent exhibition.

The iconic display, made possible with £4.8 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, covers 500 years of ‘life, passion, strife and achievement’ in Birmingham.

It’s a view of the city from medieval times and the industrial revolution through to the technology-led life of the 21st century.

Zephaniah has donated a typewriter to the exhibition. It was given to him when he was a teenager growing up in Handsworth in 1976.

“I would never have believed that it would one day end up in a museum,” smiled the poet as he looked at his old ‘Everest’ typewriter on show behind a glass case.

He told of how he used it to write his first book of poetry Pen Rhythm at the age of 22.

Asked if he used to visit the museum, Zephaniah replied: “I remember coming one day with the school and there was a girl I fancied, so I followed her around. My school days are over now, but I’ll certainly come back again to have a proper look at this exhibition – and maybe find another nice girl to follow round!”

He spoke of how, as a child, history did not interest him until he started attending one of the Saturday schools set up by the local African Caribbean community of the 1960s and 70s that were often held in people’s front rooms. It was only then that he learned about the history of black people.

Up until then, he said, he had been told at school that ‘Christopher Columbus discovered black people,’ to much laughter from the hundreds gathered at the exhibition launch.

He added: “As some of you know I have a bit of a criminal record. Not so long ago I wanted to adopt a child and I was told how I was known to the police in Birmingham.

“But I’m also known to the people of Birmingham so I feel that in my own small way I have contributed to the history of Birmingham.”

Legendary costume maker Arlton Browne, better known as Professor Black, who has made thousands of sequinned costumes at his Handsworth workshop over the decades for Birmingham Carnival, is also honoured with his own display at the exhibition.

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