Where does one start with an energy like Lemn Sissay’s? Lemn appears on stage and immediately builds a rapport with the audience as only he can. Lemn takes us on an intensely personal journey full of humour and poignancy. I have been privileged to have heard many people speak about the care system, and it is indeed a privilege to listen to his thoughts and experiences.
Sissay’s story begins in 1966 when his mother came to England from Ethiopia whilst pregnant. As a single mother, she was sent to Lancashire to give birth to Lemn, who was then promptly placed into foster care in order for his mother to complete her studies in Berkshire. Lemn goes on to say that he was given the name ‘Norman’ and placed into the foster care of a white English family. “Norman?” he asks, “Do I look like a Norman?”. I feel stunned. He is talking of a system that is trying to take away his identity, his name, his culture, his background, his people. This is what that feels like.
Lemn is at pains to stress that to foster a child is amongst the greatest acts of humanity, and that his story should not deter from that. It is, after all, his story he is telling and no one else’s. Intertwined throughout his talk are profound observations like “Dysfunction is at the heart of all functioning families”. It takes a moment for that statement to truly sink in, but it makes complete and perfect sense.
Although it is the story of his journey, there are also life lessons. He talks of the need for people to be kind to themselves, to try and forgive, for it is only through forgiveness that Lemn has found redemption and a certain closure. I leave the auditorium reflecting on Lemn’s journey and what he has to say, and although there are moments where one feels dismay at the social care system, it is also a story of hope and never giving up on dreams and aspirations. Inspirational!
- Amar Hussein
Links relevant to this diagnosis:
Lemn Sissay (Profile) - Guardian
The Emperor’s Watchmaker (Lemn Sissay Blog)
Lemn Sissay: Why Does Society Hate Young People in Care? - The Big Issue
Poet sets out to help young care leavers - Channel 4 News