Writer, poet, academic, social activist
Over thirty years ago, Len Garrison, academic, community activist and co-founder of Black Cultural Archives, asked the question:
“Where are our Heroes, Martyrs and Monuments?”
He successfully combined academic pursuit with community activism. His search for a black identity emerged through his poetry, photography, essays and political activism in the black community. His work embraced all aspects inherent in the African-Caribbean experience of the new black presence in Britain. Born in Jamaica on 13 June 1943, he migrated to England to further his schooling and pursue an academic career, graduating from Sussex University in African and Caribbean History. He also went to Ruskin College, Oxford, where he gained a diploma in Development Studies and Leicester University where he acquired an MA in Local History.
Len Garrison’s achievements were many. They included being a founder member in the mid sixties of the International Social Group whose work led to the establishment of the Wandsworth Council for Community Relations. In 1977 he founded The Afro-Caribbean Resource Project (ACRP) to publish and produce learning materials drawn from the black British experience for use in the school curriculum.
TO DEVELOP AND PROMOTE A PROGRAMME OF EDUCATION TO MEET THE PARTICULAR REQUIREMENTS OF CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE OF AFRO-CARIBBEAN ORIGIN AND OTHERS OF SIMILAR NEEDS NOT NORMALLY PROVIDED WITHIN THE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM OF THE UNITED KINGDOM.
This is the mission statement for the AFRO-CARIBBEAN EDUCATION RESOURCE PROJECT (ACER) that was set up as a charity in 1978. Although the charity closed in 2004, the work of Len Garrison carried on.
This project was the cornerstone for ILEA’s multi-ethnic and anti-racist policy in practice. Through this work he also established the Black Young Writers Award scheme, which encouraged and exposed the talents of hundreds of young black writers in the 1970s and 80s.
Len Garrison represented Britain at the 1977 Festival of Arts and Culture in Nigeria. He also lectured extensively on his work, in this country and abroad. Later as Director, he set up the ACFF Education and Culture Centre in Nottingham in the East Midlands, also establishing a number of community initiatives during his ten years’ tenureship.
Len Garrison also co-founded the Black Cultural Archives (BCA) in 1981. It houses documentary evidence of the black presence and struggle, paying homage to the thousands who fought or those who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars. BCA also works in partnership with Middlesex University and created the charitable organisation the Archives and Museum of Black Heritage (AMBH).
Black Cultural Archives in Windrush Square Brixton London
More recently he had been selected to take part in a remarkable project tracing Black people’s DNA, which was carried out by Dr Mark Jobling of Leicester University shown on the BBC2 documentary Motherland. The Observer newspaper also took the opportunity to interview him on his personal perspective of the project.
His achievements will also be published, in a book celebrating the successes and achievements of people of African heritage called Black Success Stories. Len’s challenge was to continue to create an ever-expanding awareness, perhaps daunting to some, but an exciting challenge for Len, as he believed with certainty that a positive, sustainable future could be achieved by African Diaspora people in Britain.
Since 1981 Black Cultural Archives (BCA) has embarked on the journey to collect and preserve materials which redress the historical balance and representation of people of African and Caribbean descent in Britain. The archive collection is now one of the most comprehensive collections that document the history and cultural heritage of Black Britain.
Originating as a community archive amassed over many years, the archive has been transformed into a professional archive that meets international quality standards and houses over 50 sq metrics of archival materials across two sites. With the support of Heritage Lottery Fund, archivists and trained volunteers continue to catalogue, contextualise and expand the archive collection. Our unique archive collection differs from conventional, traditional archives as it remains rooted in the community that created it.
Len Garrison died in February 2003.
Work in Progress for a bronze bust commissioned by the Black Cultural Archives
Further Reading about Len Garrison
Film footage on Facebook
The BBC documentary Motherland: A Genetic Journey. Snapshots of the documentary can be found on the internet AfricansArise.