Remembering Deyika Nzeribe
Black History Month, 2023, in the UK, is themed ‘Celebrating Black Women’, and working alongside the Green Party of England and Wales press team, we’ve been focussing on some phenomenal female figures from history that have made a great impact on the lives of black communities across the UK.
But I don’t think that you can truly celebrate black women without looking at the role we play in also supporting and celebrating black men. Our sons, our brothers, our fathers, our comrades in arms. Perhaps it one of the key areas that mark us out differently as black feminists or womanists? Find our more about these ideas on page 9 this zine produced by a local feminist collective including our very own Manchester City Councillor, Anastasia Weist.
So when we choose to centre, our brother Deyika Nzeribe, in our celebrations this month, it is from this perspective, to add our very personal rememberings to the history of the man, as women.
You can find a lot of information about Deyika online, he was a is poet, environmental activist, and politician. Born and raised in Manchester, with a heritage that stemmed from the Igbo tribe in Nigeria. Throughout his life, Deyika was actively involved in advocating for environmental causes and raising awareness about climate change. He used his creativity, including his poetry and writing, community organising and arts advocacy to express his concerns and inspire action in others.
Exploring themes of nature, identity, and social justice
In addition to his environmental activism and poetry, Nzeribe ventured into politics, joining the Green Party in 2011. He went on to chair Manchester Green Party, stood to be a local councillor in Hulme and was the candidate for the Great Manchester Mayoral election at the time of his unexpected death at the end of 2017.
My name is Ekua Bayunu, I am the communications officer for Greens of Colour and and I am a councillor in Hulme . Shortly after I was elected, I got a message online, it said “It should have been Deyika” and my response was a simple ‘Yes’.
I had met and worked with Deyika many years before I even thought about party politics. We both worked in the arts and I had heard really positive things about him some time before I had the opportunity to work with him.
We met in 2012, at STUN – Sustained Theatre Up North – a space for and run by black theatre practitioners. At this point, Deyika has founded the Mbari Group and we started working in partnership on a festival of arts and politics called Say it Loud. Its only recently that I discovered that the group borrowed part of its name from the Mbari Club.
We shared a passion for using the arts as a tool of empowerment for communities and individuals, supporting artists, audiences and participants alike.
He was one of the most dynamic and energetic men I have worked with. To be honest his politics made no sense to me, not because they were Green, but because I was yet to be convinced that Parliamentary and local government politics had anything to offer the working class communities I worked in and came from, even though I had been born and raised in a Labour household. Yet by 2016 I was unashamedly Corbynista. What I do believe was that when I needed to make the choice to leave the toxic environment of the Labour Party, and join the Green Party, the foundation of this decision was firmly rooted in knowing this man and his politics. I am hoping that he would have approved of the move, approved of it making the Green Party the first official opposition in Manchester for several years and approved of the work we are doing now to continue his legacy.
I asked Astrid Johnson, the current leader of the Green Group on Manchester City Council to share her experience. 2017, was the first election after devolution and she was the campaign manger for the very first Greater Manchester Mayoral Campaign.
She writes: “There are many members of the Green Party who had the pleasure of knowing Deyika far longer than me. But what I can say on behalf of all his Party friends, is that we were heartbroken to lose this wonderful man and friend due to his untimely death in December 2017.
“I had been working closely with Deyika in the five months prior, on the Mayoral Campaign for Greater Manchester, as his campaign manager, but I met him in December 2014, when he was the Chair of the Manchester Green Party. I went to my first business meeting to “check out” my local Party. I am sure that especially the two long standing members I have in mind will forgive me, but what I thought was: oh no, this is a group of white, sandal wearing, middle class people – very much like me.
“Then Deyika came in and that settled it – this is going to be really cool.
“In his political life, Deyika, as the Hulme Council Candidate, was a fierce and intelligent warrior again injustice, poverty, especially child poverty, homelessness, lack of housing, racism and hate towards immigrants.
“You felt that with every word he wrote, every well thought through and thought provoking conversation, you did not just get an opinion, you got a deeply held conviction that everyone mattered, that everyone had a place in that big heart of his.
“I believe that what drove him was to create a better world, not only for his children, but for all young people, and his work for the Manchester Environmental Network attests to that.
“Once I started to work with him on the Mayoral Campaign, I was surprised to find out that he was a shy speaker and an incredibly modest person.
“He hated the big images we produced for him, his name on the banners and I remember some light-hearted arguments about this.
“He stood for the issues, not yet realising, that it is only people like him who can convince our fellow humans that the endeavour to create a fairer and more sustainable world is worthwhile and important.
“Not just to get votes, but to encourage people to actually care for the common good.
“And that is what hurts most about this loss. As a Mayoral Candidate he was on a journey to have his words heard on a much larger stage, the journey of deeply knowing that his contribution really mattered.
“I was so excited and felt honoured to be with him on this journey.
“I remember our last meeting just before Christmas in 2017. We had planned an hour-long business meeting at a Hulme Café. This turned into a 2 1/2 hour session. One by one, people joined our table to check in, make plans for the future, congratulate him on his candidacy or share a laugh. Everybody knew Deyika, and he had time for all of them. Whenever we met his first question was, how was I doing, how were things going for me.
“My last memory of Deyika is of us sharing our excitement about the future and that big bear hug of his.”
Overall, his life was a testament to his passion for the environment, poetry, dialogue, his community and making a positive impact in the world. If ever there was a man who lived fully by the Green Party avowal that there never can be climate justice without social justice, then it is and will always be Deyika Nzeribe.
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