London 2012: Black Locals Feel Forgotten

The Root Exclusive: In the shadow of Olympic Park, neighborhood residents talk broken promises.

Another resident, Rebecca Williams, 46, says she had hoped to see more economic benefit and speculated that perhaps only a small fraction actually benefited financially. “A lot of people didn’t even get jobs” at the Olympics, she says. “It’s only 10 percent of them who got jobs there.”

In Leyton, which is a 20-minute walk from the glittering Olympic Park in Stratford, locals say things have gotten worse, not better. Shop owners on the main street say the London Olympics committee paid for them to spruce up their shop fronts. They expected a flood of tourists. But the only people walking by on their way to the stadium are park workers. “It’s killed off business,” says H. Akram, who has run his family’s dry cleaning business. “I’m all for the Olympics, not a problem, but if you speak to any businesses here, they’ll tell you the exact same thing.”

One problem, several business owners say, is traffic and parking. The city has warned drivers away and has also instituted paid parking in many areas. “I spent 20 years building up this business, and in seven weeks I’m watching it crumble beneath my feet,” Akram says.

At a nearby hairdresser salon, Kirsty Johnson said she didn’t see much benefit from the games. She says she wishes locals had been better informed — especially about London’s security precautions, which have included anti-aircraft missiles stationed in areas to protect against a potential terrorist attack.

“I don’t know no one personally that’s got a job at the Olympics,” says Johnson, 21. “They’ve got a missile above my block, which I don’t appreciate. We only got the letters once they decided. They dropped it literally like a bombshell.”

At the Finsbury Park sports center, regular patrons trickle in as the evening light settles over the track. A woman comes in with her lanky daughter, asking about athletics. Sports-center worker Robert Bailey urges them both to come back for the free sports program.

Bailey, who looks far younger than his 41 years, reclines back in his chair and watches the scene. BBC plays a blow-by-blow of the games over the radio. When the center does close, he’ll likely be out of a job. Bailey says the games are great, and he’s having fun watching them. But he dryly noted that Britain’s multicultural community seems to have been shut out, from the very beginning.

“When you were watching the opening ceremony, the Windrush, when our parents came over, that was all of two seconds,” he says, referring to the postwar boat that brought over many foreigners, including people like Bailey’s parents, who are from Jamaica.

“Most black people feel the Olympics have nothing to do with them,” he says.

Anita Powell is a Johannesburg-based journalist who has covered Africa for five years and Iraq and Afghanistan previously. She’s in London following the games and her favorite sport, boxing. Follow her on Twitter.