Julia Davis, Co-Chair
Deyika – Commonword
These two words are inseparable.
Commonword is part of the great legacy Deyika Nzeribe leaves behind him and the organisation he chaired for five years (from July 2012) is a legacy; not only for individuals in our communities in Manchester, but for the wider voluntary sector, the arts sector and for any collective bringing people and voices together.
One of our recent conversations was about the continuing need for consensus in running an organisation such as Commonword. What did this mean and how could this be achieved? Considered argument; developing our policies; understanding the different natures of debate possible; and then bringing all that together to lead the organisation. Deyika was never daunted by all of this. He absorbed different points of view, was careful of detail and marshalled arguments with humour and warmth. Deyika never forgot the ethos of the organisation held within its name; he was always seeking what was common to us all, and then finding the word which would set us together on a course of action.
As a co-worker in the early days of Commonword he wrote a few poems. These appeared in the collection ‘Kiss’, Asian African Caribbean Chinese Love Poems. This collection maybe symbolises the vision Deyika was so brilliant at articulating; Commonword as an organisation which nurtures the early voices; providing a strong sustainable platform for development. His work appears alongside the early poems of Lemn Sissay, John Siddique, SuAndi; amongst many, many others who have gone on to establish themselves and their careers in the writing, publishing sectors and beyond.
His short piece ‘Again’ is a love poem and a poem of renewal.
Just short of kisses
Deyika chaired with a flair, diligence, terrific humour and a graciousness belied by the authority, challenge and assertiveness he exercised as the great public servant he was: his head shaking, eyebrow raised, fist occasionally thumping the table, the odd chuckle passing his lips whilst he ensured each item was scrutinised critically for the organisation he championed. He dedicated himself to Commonword with integrity and energy for social, political and cultural equality.
Perhaps this is best illustrated by my in-box in which there is an email sent on New Year’s Eve by Deyika to me and fellow Commonword board members. He had continued to process a critical animated debate we had enthusiastically engaged in at our last board meeting, on what current arts agendas could mean to an organisation that had nurtured and promoted writers larger publishing houses consign to specialist categories. In it, he cautions: “We need to be clear about what we think…” and says, “We can have a conversation about what that could be.”
I and my fellow board members will really miss that – the opportunity to engage in a thoughtful critical debate on issues with Deyika, such a reflective, intelligent, generous and well-rounded soul.
Valluvan Sivamohan, Secretary
A magnificent man and unfailingly kind. Whenever I would chance upon somebody interesting in whatever little corner of Manchester, it would inevitably be revealed that they too knew Deyika. He was, as attested to in his tireless championing of Commonword, a presence who was immanent to so much of what is exceptional about this city. Needless to say, my greatest regret is not having had opportunity to spend more time with him. A devastating loss.”
Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
I always found myself staring at him – not because he was devilishly handsome (okay, maybe) – but because he was so knowledgeable about the organisation. I kept asking myself, how could anyone know so much? Then one day he asked if I would like to chair Commonword, (who me?) I burst out, no! I did not have a fraction of his knowledge for heaven's sakes.
It did not matter how outlandish my views were, Deyika understood.
Uzma Chaudhry, Treasurer
Whilst I hadn’t known Deyika for long, I wholeheartedly recognise that he exuded so much warmth and geniality in his mannerisms. He ensured that I very quickly settled into my position on the Board and was extra courteous towards me from the minute we met. It’s massively upsetting to see such a bright light in a seemingly dim world be taken so soon and I will take what I can from the incredible work he was doing and the legacy he has left behind. My thoughts and love are with the family.
More Deyika Tributes
Deyika was one of the finest people I have ever known. He supported me when I was Chair of Commonword and took over from me when I left. He gave me such a vote of thanks at my last meeting, at a very difficult time for me. He was also supportive in an area outside of Commonword and I learned a lot from his wise words and calm demeanour. I am greatly saddened at his loss and at the loss for Manchester at the possibility of him becoming Mayor, a post at which, I believe, he would have been good for Manchester. Although I have not seen him for a while now I can still see his smile and I shall miss it and him. Almira Holmes
I first met Deyika at Commonword back in the mid 1990's when he was the Organisations Finance and Admin person. It was my privilege and honour to work with him over several years and he was a great support to me personally, both in my Commonword role, but also in encouraging me in my future career direction. Deyika was a man who cared and wanted to see positive change, and he touched many of our lives through the many causes he supported and volunteered his time for. I am most privileged to have been able to call Deyika a true friend and will miss the drinks, debates, putting the world to rights, and the occasional game of chess, which Deyika would inevitability win... Goodbye my friend, you may not have changed the world, but you definitely had an impact. Paul J King
I am so sad to hear about the death of Deyika Nzeribe. I have such happy memories of working with Deyika at Commonword. He was a wonderful colleague and friend: such a positive force for good, a calming influence, and dispenser of wise consul in both professional and personal affairs. My heart goes out to his close friends and family who must be devastated by the loss of such a good soul. Cathy Bolton
One lasting memory of Deyika was time we spent in Piccadilly Gardens on a candle-lit vigil to bring home our Nigerian girls. Until then, our occasional meetings were usually distant greetings in passing or hurried catch ups in the street. The vigil gave us a chance to share perspectives on that emotive situation, exchange views on other global issues and reminisce, with some humour, about previous campaigns, demo’s and protests – even managing a few 60’s protest songs. Those candlelit hours now seem fleeting but the memory of reconnecting with a friend remains. Rest in Peace Deyika. Tina Otito Tamsho-Thomas
Deyika Nzeribe - Gentle Man. Truly and naturally gentle, kind, open hearted and supportive. Deyika Nzeribe - A rare light in this world, not through any effort, but just the light of his own life gently shining and making a difference through the actions and relationships in his life, and with each person he met.
He was the first person I met when I walked into Commonword as a terrified fledgling writer more than 25 years ago, and he welcomed me with that smile, and his ‘of course you are welcome.’ That welcome changed my life, and I’m sure there are many of us whose lives are better because of Deyika’s smile. The world is actually a better place for his having been here. My love and blessings to his dear family, to all who have been touched by his life. May we smile on others at our memories of him, as he smiled with us, in open beauty and natural humanity. Love and great sadness at your leaving for the most peaceful dimension dear one. John Siddique
Like the many friends whom Deyika so kindly kept in touch with over the years, I always looked forward to hearing how he and the family were, especially at New Year. When I heard the news, it felt like my thoughts froze instantly and I could not find words... For a loss so deep, for Deyika’s family and friends, for Manchester and far beyond. Your words are so warm and encompassing and I am so grateful to read them in your tribute. Deepest sympathies to Deyika’s family and to you and to all at Cultureword and Commonword. Marguerite Haskins
The loss will be ours and the energy, commitment he brought may they live on in his name. The beauty was the opportunity to have met him. Elaine Okoro.
Rest in peace Deyika. Prayers and love to the family at this sad time. Vijay Medtia.
Condolences to the family and friends. Shahireh Sharif
Deyika was a very warm man, never without a smile at greeting, always ready to share a laugh and, latterly, once we both knew that we knew each other a little bit, open armed and big with the hugs. My most vivid memory of Deyika rests now on a beautifully crisp and bright Saturday afternoon in the spring of 2014. We talked as we tramped together around the small collection of streets that radiate out from Great Western Street: the beginnings of establishing the Northern Police Monitoring Project on the ground and in practice. Deyika believed in peoples' possibilities, and he was a real giver when it came to working together to make those possibilities real. Your death is everybody's loss Deyika. Dr Rhetta Moran (RAPAR)
Photos: Mark Mace Smith, Pete Kalu, Cathy Bolton