A tribute to Benjamin Zephaniah

Benjamin Zephaniah, who sadly passed away on 7 December, will be remembered for being many things – a trailblazing poet, writer, musician, activist and of course, a proud Brummie. He was thought of so fondly by so many.

At Acorns, one of the things we will remember most dearly is the amount of pure joy he brought to children and families. His visits to our hospices over many years were always filled with smiles and laughter.

During an especially memorable Christmas visit to our Black Country hospice in 2019 he delighted children and families with poems, songs and stories. It was a wonderful to see faces light-up in his presence. Benjamin wrote warmly about the visit in an article for the Guardian.

It was at this visit that Benjamin formed a close bond with Acorns Ambassador, Assya Shabir. The friendship continued and the following year the pair were recorded in conversation for a feature aired on BBC Radio 4.

In 2021, Benjamin accepted our invitation to become a Patron and in 2022 he joined forces with fellow Acorns Patron Steven Knight for a Peaky Blinders themed charity event at the Symphony Hall, Birmingham.

Benjamin was someone who understood deeply our ethos. He understood that at Acorns, not only do families have all their clinical and emotional needs met, but it’s a place where they can create precious, lasting memories – in a world where the future can seem so uncertain.

In his own words, Benjamin said of Acorns: “I am so inspired by the kids, and I also have an enormous amount of respect for the people who work there. I want to hug and kiss them, I want to tell them how much I love them, but I just shake their hands and act normal.

“Not only do they care for these kids, some of whom are not expected to reach adulthood; they also look after their mums, dads, brothers and sisters, even grandparents. The existence of children’s hospices is something many of us feel uncomfortable with – most people tend to associate hospices with older people. I was one of them, until I first visited.

Benjamin Zephaniah and Assya Shabir.

“Those working and volunteering there do everything they can to make special memories for the children and their families. I have rarely been to a place where love, happiness and joy were so abundant. I have never felt a hint of doom or gloom.”

Benjamin had the ability to connect with everyone he met. He had a sincere heart for the vulnerable and saw all others as equals; precious and loved, regardless of ability or social status. This was one of his greatest gifts, and something all of us at Acorns will remember, long into the future.