Racism in Boxing: An Insider Perspective
Through the bright red doors on the corner of Harrow Road and First Avenue lay the iconic and undoubtedly legendary All Stars Boxing Gym. Dubbed ‘Home of Champions’ the gym does live up to its name seeing the likes of Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield and Mickey Ward, to name a few, pass through for a few punches. But it’s not the visitors that are the essence of this gym, it’s all about its story and legacy.
It begins in 1974 when the young aspiring boxer Tee Jay Akay, the son of Ghana-born Isola Akay, introduced his group of friends to this invigorating sport and invited them to train at his local gym; upon arriving they were turned away due to the colour of their skin. This incident was not a deterrent however; Akay was determined to give these young boys the boxing training they were looking for and he did it by holding training sessions at his small council flat as well as local parks. He saw boxing as a healthy platform for under privileged kids to vent their stress and teach them the value of discipline as opposed resorting to negative behaviour on the streets. From this, All Stars was born. Akay’s work did not go unnoticed; he was awarded MBE in 2000 and held the Olympic torch in London. After one of my intense boxing sessions I have with his youngest son Jamal, I wanted to interview him for The Orbital with a long list of questions. But I think one answer sums it up. “Can you tell me a success story of someone this gym helped?” to which he replied “What? Why are you choosing to write about one person when the gym helped thousands of people? The gym is a story in itself!”