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Ones To Watch - Shaniqua Benjamin

Ones To Watch #Croydon is a series created to showcase all the up and coming talents throughout the borough!

We caught up with Croydon's golden girl - Spoken Word Poet, Artist Activist , Writer, #LoveWarrior and Change Maker - Shaniqua Benjamin to get the 411!

SDS: How are you doing? How have things been?

Shaniqua: I'm good thank you, things have been good. I actually love lockdown most of the time haha I do miss hugging people, but it's been good I can't complain, I'm still able to work so that's really good.

SDS: What was it that got you into being a spoken word poet?

Shaniqua: I went to Bosnia that year and performed poetry for the first time, and I fell in love with it. So, it was just doing that spoken word piece really and seeing the power of words, how you can plant seeds in such a short space of time. Also just finding a healthy form of expression, which I really need because I struggle with self harm. So poetry,

spoken word was that really healthy way of expression, which is part of the reason why I love it so much.

SDS: You said that you got distracted by fashion, what was it about fashion that distracted you? Are you still into fashion?

Shaniqua: It's not that fashion distracted me, I mean anything art related has my heart or my

eyes. I don't know why fashion was the one that got me, I just remember sitting in church or

sitting in classes in school and sketching clothes. I used to love just sketching designs and I

had this dream that I wanted to make clothes for people like me, who are

black or with a curvier figure, who struggle to clothes that fully fit. But getting to university I

realised the fashion was not for me, that industry was not for me, fashion design - specifically making clothes - wasn't for me.I still love it. I mean, it's a beautiful art

form. It's just a really weird industry.

SDS: Talk us through Young People Insight of which you're the director of, let us know what it's about.

Shaniqua: So, YPI (Young People Insight) is my child, no longer my baby because it's been for four years now haha, it's all about empowering young people through creativity, conversation and writing.

SDS: How did it start?

Shaniqua: I started it as a blog in 2014, but I wanted to create something offline, as young people are online a lot. So in 2016, I held the first discussion group, which is called 'The Kickback' and then later that year I bought in a poetry night too. So from 2017, there was a monthly discussion group and a monthly poetry night which is called 'Poetic Insight'.

People could express themselves, talk about different topics which are always chosen by them. I emphasise that it's youth led, not just because I am a young person but because I want to ensure young people were leading. I think there's something special about young people working with young people - it works really well.

There are other organisations that say they're "youth led" but it's really older people leading and they bring young people in to steer or lead certain activities; I wanted [YPI] to be solely youth lead. I started it when I was 23 - I'm 27 now, so I want to pass the running on to young people, because I don't want it to become something that it's not.

So it's young people working with young people, being creative, getting their voice heard and learning about themselves. Also just passing on opportunities as well,

because there's so much I didn't know when I was younger, and I wish I did. I hope to pass it on to them.

SDS: In your bio you put the hashtag #LoveWarrior, what does that mean?

Shaniqua: Love Warrior comes from a show called 'Rallying Cry' I was in a couple of years ago with Apples and Snakes, the spoken word poetry organisation. They invited five established poets and nine emerging poets to create a piece on what was really important to them as a form of protest. I decided to do it around love because I love really hard and I use love as a way to fight injustice, to do good and make a difference in the world. During this, the term Love Warrior came about - which I really liked - and that's what the character was known as, Love Warrior. Then at the end of the show, the director was like, "Do something with these pieces, make it into a full length show" and I said ok yeah. At the end of last year I had the opportunity to develop it for the Croydonites festival, so I was gonna do a scratch of it this year. Obviously Corona happened so I couldn't do that, but I'm continuing to build on it becoming a full length one woman show.

I don't want it to just be a theatre piece, I also want it to be taken to libraries, schools, colleges, prisons, and include workshops with it as well, for it to become a movement where people can #LoveWarrior. I've been trying to be a love warrior recently by showing love each day on my Instagram stories with different people, which is a little thing, but it's really beautiful and the responses have been great! So that's Love Warrior!!

SDS: So is #LoveWarrior still on the table? Could it happen after Coronavirus?

Shaniqua: #LoveWarrior is definitely not off the table! I've been working on the writing to make it better and improve it; this has been a really great time for me to develop as a poet. To be able to put that into the show has been amazing and Croydonites is supposed to be having a smaller programme in Autumn so I can perform the scratch there hopefully. I'm going to be in full fledged project mode for next year, so it will definitely be back because Love Warrior is too important to stay on the shelf. Especially with everything going on now, it's gonna be even more important. Love is so key.

SDS: What have you been reading recently?

Shaniqua: I recently finished reading 'A Greek Verse for Ophelia & Other Poems' by Giovanni

Quessep, who is a Colombian poet and it's just the most stunning collection of poetry I've ever read!

SDS: If you could perform anywhere in the world where would it be and why?

Shaniqua: That's a really hard question... before I would have actually said America but now I

say Bosnia - which is actually where I want to perform Love Warrior at one point in the Bosnian language.

SDS: If someone were to make a movie about your life, who would you want to play you?

Shaniqua: Gosh, who really could play me? Who has the heart to play me? That's just really tough, I just don't think I trust anyone to play my character, I only ever want to be myself. I mean, maybe a little child actor?... Who do I think it's really cute? I don't know maybe some really cute little child actor but I couldn't think of anyone. I wouldn't trust anyone to play me but me.

SDS: Can you sum up Croydon in three words?

Shaniqua: I thought of so many words! So, so, so many words.. but the three that I'll choose is: Resilient, Nuts and Home.

Check out Shaniqua's Instagram to keep up to date with everything she's up to! Also check out Young People's Insight HERE!


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