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A milestone of love and laughter

TRIO: Bentley Cunningham with Georgina Mendez (left) and Camille Ade-John

A STALWART in the West Midlands’ African Caribbean community found himself the centre of attention with a surprise birthday cake to celebrate his milestone three score years and ten.

Kingston-born Bentley Cunningham marked his 70th birthday in style as family and friends paid tribute to his wisdom, fine mind and unflinching support for all those who called on him for help.

Camille Ade-John, who helped to organise the party at Wayann’s Caribbean restaurant in Northfield, Birmingham, said: “Ben is someone who will always look at what he can do to help. If you ask him he never refuses.

“A scholar and one of our foremost intellectuals, he is a highly intelligent being who is also very humble when it comes to his community who has helped us all to understand the importance of learning at whatever age you may be.”

Bentley came to the UK in 1957 and studied education at the University of Nottingham and business at the University of Bradford.

He has worked as a lecturer in politics and public administration, while also being head of department at the University of Swaziland in Africa and assistant lecturer at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus in Jamaica.

A lifelong and staunch supporter of Jamaica’s People’s National Party, Bentley set up the Project Planning and Training Centre in inner-city Birmingham which gave youths the chance to train as motor mechanics.

Georgina Mendez, who has since taken over the thriving vehicle project, said Bentley was seen as a visionary and an entrepreneur who came up with thousands of good ideas to help support the next generation.

While close friend Desmond Jaddoo said: “Ben is not afraid to hand over the baton, but he does not wash his hands of his community either. Sometimes our elders abandon us, but Ben is always there for us as a voice of reason.”

In a moving response, Ben told of how his ambition for learning was forged in the poverty of the tenement yard where he grew up with his four siblings in Kingston.

“I was known as a ‘one room boy’” he said. “But despite that poverty I had a mind to learn and the ambition. The kind of ambition that makes children in Africa who live without electricity study until sunset, then end up at Oxford University.

“If you have ambition and you are proud of yourself, then that will motivate you in life so you learn to grow up and be a man.

“So many times in the classroom when I was helping challenging kids with vehicle training and they were being so funny and so intelligent, I thought to myself ‘where are their fathers to see these wonderful children?’

“In life you have to learn to hold on to your dreams.”

PARTY TIME: The party took place at Wayann’s Caribbean restaurant in Northfield, Birmingham

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