Lenford ‘Len’ Alphonso Garrison, born in St Thomas, Jamaica in 1943 was an educationalist, community activist and historian whose life’s work was to catalogue the development of the Black British identity and its history, and promote the works of young black writers. He was the creator of ACER (Afro-Caribbean Education Resource) and co-founded the Black Cultural Archives.
Len’s family migrated to Britain in the early fifties and settled in West London in 1954. He studied Photography at King’s College London and went on to become a specialist medical photographer at Guy’s Hospital and a freelancer for the West Indian Gazette.
Len joined Ruskin in 1971, gaining a Diploma in Development Studies. He would later gain a BA at the University of Sussex in African History and Caribbean history, and an MA in Local History at Leicester University.
Len was invited to represent Britain at FESTAC – the Festival of Arts and Culture – in Nigeria in 1977, where his presentation was based on his dissertation on the Rastafarian movement that he had written while at Ruskin College.
Len believed that the British education system was failing black children as it denied the reality or existence of black history or culture. He argued that what was required was an educational resource that was multi-cultural, recognising and acknowledging black history. To this end, ACER was set up.
ACER would become a major archive of black history from which educational material could be developed for school children of all ages and abilities. He campaigned for two years for funding and resources until 1977, when the ACER project was launched with Len at the head. ACER’s black history educational packs went on to be used all over the country.
ACER’s most successful project was the Young Penmanship awards for creative writing about the reality and experiences of young black people in Britain. The award helped launch the careers of many black professionals, including the playwright Michael McMillan, novelist and barrister Nicola Williams, the music critic Clive Davis and Dr Michael Beckles.
In 1988 ACER was forced to close due to lack of funding. Its legacy can be seen today in black history being part of the mainstream British educational curriculum and its model has been adopted internationally.
Len also co-founded the Black Cultural Archives (BCA) in 1981 and became a trustee. The BCA would be a major factor in the shift towards a fully multicultural British society, which was his vision. In 2010, the BCA won funding of £5 million and moved to Brixton to become the UK’s first national black heritage centre.
Len died in 2003.