Floella Benjamin Reflects On Her Career In Advocacy On Children’s TV

Floella Benjamin is a children’s TV presenter who’s used her career to advocate for children of all ages and backgrounds.

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Benjamin originally was a presenter on ‘Play School’ – a children’s program in the UK – before she began her own production company. She’s been in the children’s TV industry for over 30 years, and recently explained in an interview that her career has given her the ability to communicate with not only children, but every adult’s inner child as well when it comes to large issues regarding social justice and politics. 

Benjamin became known for starting her show with a simple but positive statement: “I’m here today because I love you,” and would then proceed to ask her at-home audience, “hello, are you all right?” and pausing to wait for a verbal response. She claims to have always done that because she believes that showing you care and actually meaning it is the real secret to success, especially in an industry that has children as the main demographic. 

Benjamin was recently honored at the Women in Film and Television awards where she received a lifetime achievement award. This was the latest accomplishment for Benjamin, as her career has already been highly decorated. She won another lifetime achievement award from Bafta in 2004 and the Freedom of the City of London honor in 2018. Benjamin’s programs are also mainly televised in the UK, where she’s always lived; although she was originally born in Trinidad. Benjamin is so well known that she’s often been referred to as the British Mr. Rogers by Americans who knew of her show. 

“Many of the children watching were living in children’s homes, or weren’t loved, or were being abused, and they needed somebody. I made them understand that I loved them.”

In 2010, Benjamin took a seat in the House of Lords as a Liberal Democrat peer. Her official title changed to Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham, but is also referred to as Baroness or Lady Benjamin. When she took her seat, she went on social media to claim that she would be devoting her energy “to the well being of children and young people.”

Part of her duties include listening to/counseling other ministers in parliament, who she claims to be her “Play School babies,” as many of them grew up watching Benjamin and still seek her approval over matters regarding the city. The fact that Benjamin is a Baroness for Beckenham is especially important to her considering that that’s where her and her family resided after moving to England from Trinidad when she was 10. It was here that Benjamin recalls having her first experiences with racism.

“They sent the police to arrest us – to say black people don’t live here. My mum said, ‘You know something, we’re going to live in this house,’” Benjamin recalled. Her family remained in that house for 40 years after the initial move. Benjamin is now 70-years-old and both of her parents have passed, however, she often brings them up in conversation or speeches because of how much they impacted her life growing up. 

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“I always say, ‘Childhood lasts a lifetime. My parents gave me so much love, poured it into me all my life. So what better thing to do than to hand it back out?”

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Benjamin has been very public about the fact that growing up she experienced racist bullying from not only her peers, but teachers as well; she recalled one incident of a teacher making fun of her Caribbean accent when she first moved to England and telling Benjamin that if she “wanted to remain in [her] class she would have to learn to speak the Queen’s English.” 

Well, in 2012 Benjamin was a chancellor at Exeter University during the Diamond Jubilee. Benjamin was able to not only meet the Queen, whose English she was demanded to learn, but was given the task of giving her a guided tour of the University. She recalls opening up the Queen about her past in Trinidad and having to overcome so much adversity once she got to England but emphasized that she didn’t blame or hate anyone in the country and if anything, it made her stronger. To which the queen responded, “When I’m speaking to you like this, it reminds me of when I was speaking to Nelson Mandela. He had the same philosophy.”

Benjamin is a self-proclaimed reformer of systemic issues. Her work began at Play School where she often expressed her discontent with the fact that only white kids were ever on the show. Later in her career she was able to not only change this, but secure an amendment that encourages major broadcasters in the UK to commission more children’s content in general. Her main goal is always giving young kids something positive and quality to take in, and learn that they should only ever accept positive/quality things in their own lives. With the current state of the world and its global reckoning of racism within every industry/system, Benjamin claims to be focusing on children’s welfare, and media diversity.  

“I’ve been trying to point out the lack of diversity. I’ve been told, ‘Shut up, you’ll never work again’, ‘Back off, who do you think you are?’ I’ve been told all of that – but I know eventually it will turn.”

Benjamin’s work continues as a Baroness and as an advocate for young children who deserve a quality education through programming that’s widely accessible regardless of socioeconomic status/background.