Baroness Floella Benjamin leads the BCA’s inaugural Len Garrison Memorial lecture
Last month the Black Cultural Archives hosted its first Len Garrison Memorial lecture. The annual lecture series is dedicated to the BCA co founder, Len Garrison, who was, amongst many other things, an educationalist and an advocate for the importance of children’s education.
Baroness Benjamin is a fervent campaigner for the importance of education and care for children and was a fitting choice of first speaker. Her involvement with children’s education began when she became a presenter of the BBC’s Play School in 1976. Her impassioned lecture drew largely on her own experiences as a child, as well as lessons learned since, as she has worked to ensure the representation of black people across all visual media, from TV to special edition stamps.
“Childhood lasts a lifetime,” Baroness Benjamin told the BCA’s audience. She spoke about how children’s experiences, including those of TV programmes, shape their futures. If their experience never shows them cultural and racial diversity, their adult selves will struggle to behave morally towards others different from themselves. “I was lucky to be born in Trinidad”, she told us, “because I wasn’t a colour, I was a person.”
When she started at Play School, having in her own words “blagged her way into television”, black people at the BBC, presenters as well as children, were so under-represented that the makeup lady wasn’t even sure where to buy black make up – Baroness Benjamin had to take the lady to Brixton market herself.
Her role as a Play School presenter afforded Baroness Benjamin a strange privilege: she was often the first black face which children saw on TV. “Asian, black and white adults have written to me over the years to thank me for being that first black face to them… one family wrote to me and said ‘we saw you and we knew our children has a future.’”
Baroness Benjamin is a huge believer in teaching children the right values to help our society move forward. The three things she hopes that all children learn are what she terms her ‘three Cs’ – “ consideration, contentment and confidence”. Baroness Benjamin, with her boundless energy and ability to single out any one of the audience and speak right to them, is certainly a powerful embodiment of her own principles, and her lecture an inspiring first Len Garrison Memorial lecture.
Her lecture was followed by a reading from Tunde Garrison, Len Garrison’s son, and a spoken word performer, from Brixton talent Nat Nye. In keeping with the spirit of the lecture, the BCA were keen to promote their Youth Forum, for ages 16-25, for which Tunde Garrison is a leading light. Click here to find out more.