'One of Birmingham's greatest sons' - tributes pour in for Benjamin Zephaniah, dead at 65

Benjamin Zephaniah, the Birmingham-born poet and actor, has died aged 65
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Tributes have poured in for Birmingham poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who has died aged 65.

Benjamin's family confirmed in a statement that he was diagnosed with a brain tumour eight weeks ago, and passed away during the early hours of Thursday morning (December 7).

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The acclaimed poet, who grew up in Handsworth and also starred in Peaky Blinders, often addressed political injustice in his writing and was a child of the Windrush generation. In his book ‘Windrush Child’, the author draws on experiences of children that came to the UK during that period.

One of Birmingham's most renowned writers, he was cast by Steven Knight as the preacher Jeremiah "Jimmy" Jesus in Peaky Blinders. Tributes have poured in on social media from political figures in Birmingham, and from writers and those in the media.

West Midlands mayor, Andy Street, wrote: "Poet, author, actor, musician and icon.

"Benjamin Zephaniah was a pioneer - from his beautiful poems & music, to his acting prowess & fearless campaigning. One of Birmingham’s greatest sons, he leaves a legacy that’ll be remembered across the U.K. for generations."

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Ladywood MP Shabana Mahmood, wrote: "A son of Handsworth and the Windrush generation, Benjamin Zephaniah spoke in the voice of Birmingham’s migrant communities. He showed the country the best of our city and modern Britain. A true giant whose legacy will live on for generations to come."

Aston Villa also paid tribute to Benjamin, who was a life-long Villa supporter. The club wrote on its social media pages: "Everyone at Aston Villa is deeply saddened by news of the passing of legendary writer and poet, Benjamin Zephaniah. "Named as one of Britain's top 50 post-war writers in 2008, Benjamin was a lifelong Aston Villa fan and had served as an ambassador for the @AVFCFoundation. The thoughts and condolences of all at the club are with his family and friends at this time."

Benjamin refused to accept an OBE in 2003, writing in The Guardian at the time that he is 'profoundly anti-empire.' Writer Alex Niven paid tribute to Benjamin, writing: "In a country where titles and honorifics prop up hierarchy in almost every walk of life, Zephaniah’s repudiation of the honours system was a brave, radical, self-sacrificing gesture. Nobody’s perfect, but some people do the right thing in life when it counts."

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