Today programme guest editor Zephaniah and the power of emphasising the positive

by Jeremy Miles

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Benjamin Zephaniah

It was good to hear Benjamin Zephaniah doing his bit as guest editor of this morning’s Today programme on BBC Radio 4.

As a particularly articulate and accessible poet, he has been embraced by the British middle-class. For many that would have been sell-out point but Zephaniah hasn’t forgotten what it was like to grow up as a black person in an England torn apart by racial tensions.

I first met him nearly 30-years-ago. The riots of Handsworth, Brixton and Toxteth were still raw memories. The police were about to move on to beating the living daylights out of the miners. It was a deeply uncomfortable time if your race or political stance didn’t fit the bill as it were.

Benjamin Zephaniah saw through the crap, refused to be cowed and intimidated and exuded a sense of confidence, thoughtfulness, engagement and enthusiasm. He believed then that positive thoughts and actions can be more powerful than negativity and violence. He still believes it today.

Arguing with John Humphrys that there can be a place for good news in the media was always going to be a pointless exercise but Zephaniah danced around the subject with an impressive lack of ego. He knew he was sounding naive but sailed on regardless.

The point is that BZ is right. No one wants to be spoon-fed endless tales about fluffy kittens and lovely people. Well actually they probably do but they’d soon get fed up with it. However, finding the positive to counterbalance the negative in the news agenda might just give people a broader view of life, the world and help bolster their hopes and aspirations.

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