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UK the tale of two black role models. (Diaspora).

Clayton Goodwin on two of Black Britain's role models--Lenford Garrison who founded the Black Cultural Archives and died in February; and Trevor Phillips, forever in the news and now head of the Commission of Racial Equality.

Len Garrison, who passed away aged only 59 years on 18 February 2003, pointed the African heritage community in the UK the way from L which it had come, while Trevor Phillips, who was appointed chief executive officer of the Commission for Racial Equality just a few days before Garrison's death, could point it in the way on which it is going the 21st century.

Both had their upbringing on both sides of the Atlantic, but the persona which they have presented could not be more different.

Lenford Kwesi Garrison, historian and educationist, was born on 13 June 1943 in St Thomas, a rural parish in eastern Jamaica, with a strong historical link to the struggle for identity by the sons and daughters of slaves. The Morant Bay, the scene of the celebrated "uprising" led by the Jamaican national hero, Paul Bogle, in 1865, is located in the same parish.

When he was 11 years old, Len joined his parents who had moved to England shortly beforehand. He showed an early aptitude for photography. Indeed, we met initially in the early 1960s--he was living then in the Clapham district of South London--when we tried to find an outlet for our work with pen and picture with the UK West Indian heritage press which was then less embryonic than just a twinkle in the eye of incorrigible optimists.

After developing his interest in photography into medical photography at King's College Hospital and Guy's Hospital--two of London's leading hospitals--Len gained a diploma in development studies at Ruskin College, Oxford, in 1971. Five years later, he graduated from Sussex University in African and Caribbean History.

It was while he was at Ruskin that Len became interested in Rastrafarianism which led to his writing the book, Black Youth, Rastafarianism and the Identity Crisis in Britain, which was published in 1979.

Those were historic days. Two years later the inner-cities were ablaze with urban riots across the country--and nowhere became associated more with that "summer of discontent" than the "front-line" of Brixton in South London.

Len Garrison was working already in the area, where he had founded the Afro-Caribbean Education Resource in 1977 to publish and produce learning materials from the black British experience for use in schools and established the Black Penmanship Awards to promote young black writers. The then Inner London Education Authority backed the project which has formed the basis of multi-racial education now throughout the UK.

A question of identity? The Caribbeans who had arrived in England in such large numbers in the 15 years from 1948 knew who they were--Caribbeans born and bred who expected to return to the islands of their upbringing (even though the majority were destined to live out their lives in a colder climate than they had envisaged).

Their children, who had been born or had received their schooling in England, had no firm understanding of who they were or from where they--their parents and their forebears--had come.

Len had a prominent role in setting up the African Peoples Historical Monument Foundation in the early I 1980s which worked towards the realisation of the Black Cultural Archives.

Yet by the end of the decade, he had moved from South London to the East Midlands where he founded and directed the Afro-Caribbean Family project in Nottingham in 1988, gained a degree in Local History at Leicester University four years later, and founded the East Midlands African Caribbean Arts initiative.

In 1997, Len returned to Brixton to devote his time, energy and resources to the Black Cultural Archives which had joined with Middlesex University in creating the Archive and Museum of Black History. There was no reason to suspect other than that he had many more years of service to his community.

In early February 2003, The Observer, a leading national Sunday newspaper, quoted him as being "astounded and delighted" about the project--in which he had taken part--conducted by Dr Mark Jopling of Leicester University, shown on BBC2 television to considerable critical acclaim, into tracing the history of people through their DNA.

Just a few days later, Len suffered a heart-attack at a meeting of the management committee of the Black Cultural Archives which he chaired. An ambulance was called but he was declared dead on arrival at hospital. Those who attended his funeral at the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Brixton declared it to have been fitting for a head of state. Len left a widow, Marie, and a son, Tunde.

If Len Garrison captured the hearts of the streets of South London, and of those with an eye to cultural and ethnic tradition, Trevor Phillips O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire) is at home in the television studio and in the "corridors of influence".

He is associated closely with several of the leading personalities of the New Labour party who form the current British government and who have been dubbed "Tony's cronies" (after Tony Blair) by their critics.

Trevor, one of whose brothers is the writer Mike Phillips, was born in a snowstorm--the youngest of seven children--on 31 December 1953. His father was a clerk for British Railways and his mother worked as a seamstress in a sweatshop--their home was a modest house in Finsbury Park, North London.

Yet his childhood was spent in travelling between there and Georgetown in Guyana, his parents' homeland, where he gained a grounding in student politics. He attributes the development of his career to the qualities instilled by the old-fashioned discipline of the Caribbean teachers.

On returning to London to study Chemistry at Imperial College, Trevor leaped to national recognition by becoming president of the National Union of Students in 1978--the first and, to date, only black person to do so. Thus he was in a high-profile position when "race" became the major issue between the years of the rise of the National Front in the late 1970s and the urban disturbances that broke out nationally in the wake of the election of Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government in 1978.

During this rime, Trevor formed friendships with Charles Clarke, another prominent member of the NUS, Peter Mandelson of the British Youth Council with which the NUS had dose ties (who was the best man at Trevor's wedding in 1981), and Paul Boateng--all are now prominent members of the "Blair coretie".

Trevor's rise in the media was rapid--he was head of Current Affairs at London Weekend Television, and he has become both rich and famous as an instantly-recognisable interviewer and by producing a number of acclaimed programmes.

When he interviewed the ebullient Darcus Howe, who had been touted as a possible candidate for the post of mayor of London, Trevor's dexterity left little doubt that if there were to be a black candidate for mayor, it should be he, himself.

Trevor's New Labour credentials--he was deputy to the party's candidate for London mayor, Frank Dobson--availed him little in an election dominated by Ken Livingstone who left Labour to stand as an independent and was subsequently thrown out of the party, and yet won the race as mayor.

Nevertheless, Trevor did become chairman of the Greater London Assembly. This potentially prestigious position proved to be somewhat of a backwater as Livingstone seems set to overshadow London's politics for the foreseeable future.

When Gurbux Singh, who chaired the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), resigned after an alleged drunken episode at the Lord's Cricket Ground, it was recognised generally that the position was Trevor's--if he wanted it. His appointment has been popular with the Labour government and with those who consider that the Asian communities have had too much influence to date on the CRE.

"He is black--but is he black enough?", critics ask of Trevor Phillips, who mingles with the mighty and whose children attend private school. It is nor a question that anybody would have needed to ask of Len Garrison. Yet both could claim with some justification to be different facets of the same experience.

The road from the Black Cultural Archives on Coldharbour Lane in Brixton to the Commission for Racial Equality offices in nearby Borough High Street, both in South London, is not that long but that from the history which Garrison showed his community to the future towards which Phillips wishes to point, is very long indeed.
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Author:Goodwin, Clayton
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 1, 2003
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