“Childhood? It lasts a lifetime.” Baroness Floella Benjamin certainly knows a thing or two about how childhood shapes us into who we are today, says Bethany Park.
Families at this year’s festival were treated to an inspirational and moving talk by the 68-year-old baroness about finding consideration, contentment and confidence – no matter how young you are.
The challenges that Floella faced as a child are exactly what made her who she is today – a woman of courage and kindness. Festival visitors were lucky enough to hear some of Floella’s words of wisdom and encouragement.
Her life began in the Caribbean, where she lived happily with her mother, father and siblings. But when she turned 8, life as she knew it began to fall apart.
“My father moved to England to play jazz,” said Floella, “and after one year, my mother also moved out to England and we were left with foster parents for 15 months.”
What followed were months of hardship, and even when she and her siblings finally moved to London to live with their parents, she faced years of discrimination and bullying in 1960s England. So, how did she become the brave and confident woman she is today?
“My dad, being the philosopher, told us there was a world out there,” said Floella, “and my mum gave us the confidence to conquer the world. It was a wonderful combination. Even though the eight of us had to share one room, it didn’t matter. My mum told me that this was my palace; it was full of love.”
And it is this courage, love and confidence that Floella wishes to share with children around the world, through her autobiographical book Coming to England.
“All you do when people don’t show you love, is show love yourself. You have to smile and feel worthy. I realised that if anyone else had a problem with the colour of my skin, then it was their problem. I had to begin showing the world who I really was. I stopped fighting with my fists, and started fighting with my brain. So, if a bully comes to get you; smile at them. Winners smile. Any wickedness that people give to me, I just smile.”
Floella’s autobiography is about her childhood, and it is written in a child’s perspective. She believes that her book is now more relevant than ever, and that it has changed the lives of both children and adults. Her aim is to teach children to be aware, and share her wisdom and love to all those willing to listen.
She says although it has taken 20 years for her book to become as well-known as it is today, it just proves that it is “more relevant than ever. It is worth the wait. The joy that I feel in my heart, knowing that there are a million other children who will experience this book. And it will change their lives. So, change the world. Change the world for me.”