As a million black men marched in the United States capital yesterday, hundreds of British black men and women were arriving at the community centre on Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham, north London.
News of the national black unity rally in Britain, called in sympathy with the Million Man March in Washington DC, set nerves twitching among residents on the estate, the police and local politicians. All were united in their desire to say as little as possible in advance of the meeting. So was the local MP, Bernie Grant, who was due to address last night's meeting.
A Scotland Yard spokesman stressed that the gathering was "a private meeting not an open air rally" and said policing around the estate would continue in "the normal fashion".
Haringey council said none of its member would be attending "except in a private capacity", while the Broadwater Farm residents' association said: "This meeting is absolutely nothing to do with us, nothing at all."
Only the Jewish Board of Deputies, concerned about overtly anti-Semitic comments by Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam's American leader, was willing to openly condemn the meeting, describing it as a "cynical" stunt. The concern centred around the keynote speaker, Minister Wayne X, a prominent member of the black separatist Nation of Islam. The Fruit of Islam, as the group's followers are known, see the estate as a ripe picking ground.
The death of Cynthia Jarrett, a Broadwater Farm resident, during a police raid 10 years ago sparked off the worst race riots Britain has seen. Constable Keith Blakelock was hacked to death and the estate has never lived down its reputation. Perhaps as a direct result it is an ideal recruiting ground for Farrakhan's self-empowerment, self-help message. Unemployment among young black men on the estate is also disproportionately high.
Although millions of pounds have been spent improving Broadwater Farm, including hundreds of thousands of pounds to build the community centre, the venue for last night's meeting, the young black men who hang around the shops on the estate feel little has been done for them.