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Popular veteran tells of taking life to the max

ACTIVIST: Maxie Hayles, centre, has launched his book

IT’S BEEN called a labour of love, a legacy project and a template for discussion – the autobiography of the life and times of Birmingham-based human rights activist Maxie Hayles is an inspiring read.

And for a man who has single-handedly challenged the governments of the day on so many issues over the years, where else more appropriate to launch his book than the UK’s seat of power – the House of Commons?

So that is where Taking It To the Max was officially unveiled at an event led by Simon Woolley, director of Operation Black Vote, who said he felt “the proudest man in London” to be hosting the launch. For Maxie has spent most of his adult life championing causes and defending those victims of racism and injustice in his quest to make the world a better place.

Tributes poured in for the popular community champion. Race relations activist Lee Jasper, joint co-ordinator of Black Activists Rising Against the Cuts (BARAC) who travelled to South Africa with him for the World Conference Against Racism 15 years ago, said: “You could not want a better soldier or a better general on your side because Maxie is a man of his word. Many speak as though their word is their bond, but Maxie has always been there for people 100 per cent.”

In an emotional speech, the book’s editor Tony Kelly said: “On this journey of writing Maxie’s story with him, I have seen him laugh, cry tears of joy and tears of sorrow, get angry, show disbelief along with shock and horror as he went through every emotion that is humanly possible.

“It has touched me in many ways, and I too have joined in some of those emotions as we laughed and cried together. As black people, we need to applaud Maxie for documenting our history, our struggles, our past, instead of going the way of so many who take their stories to the grave. Your story is a clear case of triumph over adversity.”

Angella Rose-Howell, Acting High Commissioner for Jamaica in the UK, who was at the launch, said: “This is clearly a labour of love and it will not be in vain as the role you have played in shaping this country is a fitting inspiration for the next generation.”

She praised him for his ‘Jamaican-ness’ which she said was portrayed even in the title of the book.
Dr Martin Glynn, a criminologist and lecturer at City of Birmingham University, who supported Maxie in the project and wrote the foreword, said: “Maxie’s story is an important legacy project. His book gives an insight into one person’s experiences, engagement with, and connection to, a time and space which is seldom documented. In doing so, Maxie has provided us with a template for discussion in barber shops, churches, colleges and universities, community spaces and so on.

SUPPORT: Lee Jasper hailed Maxie’s contributions

This book is a welcome addition to a community that at times fears expressing itself for fear of not being heard.

“What is clearly evident is Maxie is someone who has stood for something, argued for the right to exist as a human being and refused to accept any form of subordination.

“He has also expressed regrets, been self-critical, as well as openly criticising publicly things he has felt were wrong.”

Charmaine Burton, a political broadcaster based in Birmingham, praised Maxie for being a trusted mentor who had always been in her life supporting and encouraging her. She said: “He has always been an inspiration to me and been there when I have needed his advice. He’s a true father of our community.”

Maxie said: “I never wanted to write this book – it has been written by public demand. I got fed up with people telling me: ‘You must write a book,’ so I turned to people like Tony Kelly and Martin Glynn, who sat me down like a child in a schoolroom.

“At first, I didn’t even tell my wife Inez what I was doing – for the first three months I kept on disappearing to Tony’s – I almost moved my bed into his house. I don’t know what she thought I must be up to!

“I dearly wanted to hold this launch in the House of Commons, since I have spent most of my life challenging government decisions. It is appropriate that the UK’s seat of power should play host to me.”

Maxie has received numerous awards over the years – one of his proudest moments was receiving a lifetime achievement award in 2008 from Jesse Jackson when he visited Birmingham. He is also the 2000 winner of the Prime Minister’s Regional and National Active Community Award for building a fair and just community.

Friends and supporters, including members of Maxie’s church – Handsworth’s Cannon Street Memorial Baptist Church – attended the launch. Opera singer Abigail Kelly sang Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen and the uplifting gospel song Ride on King Jesus.

Students Musa Nkomo and Alexandria Stewart, from Perry Beeches II secondary school in Birmingham, also attended the launch as they had helped with research for the book.

It is available to order from, and the Amazon website.

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