Illustrated Daily, August 3, 1996

Sports Illustrated Daily Feature Story

On the Outside Looking In

Impoverished Summerhill is next door to the games—yet far removed

by Michael Bamberger

It was early afternoon, and in the heat of the day, the one guy was starting to get angry at the other.

"Hey, I'm telling you, next one is mine!" James Wright yelled at James Clemmons. The two Jameses were working Little Street just south of Olympic Stadium and Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, trying to lure parking customers onto a vacant house lot. Five dollars per car.

Summerhill kids

On their improvised bleachers, Summerhill kids settle for the lights and sounds of Olympic (left) and Atlanta-Fulton County stadiums.

photograph by
Lynn Johnson

"Supposed to be I get three, he get two, next time I get two, he get three," Wright said, growing madder by the moment. He and Clemmons have lived in this neighborhood, called Summerhill, all their lives, fortysomething years. Wright thought they had an understanding. "Now he's gone selfish on me," he said of Clemmons.

Clemmons had his own plan. He's a self-described cocaine addict and alcoholic—"not ashamed to admit it," he said—and he was feeling the urge. "Haven't had no cocaine all day," he said. "Get me some now and I feel light. Set by myself and feel light."

He's homeless, toothless, days removed from his last shower. Still, he follows the Olympics, knows about Michael Johnson, the Centennial Olympic Park bombing, the crowded subway trains. The cops moved the dealers out of Summerhill for the Games, he said. Other than that, the Games are O.K. by him.


The deal: Clemmons needs money for cocaine, and fans need parking, however unappealing.

photograph by
Lynn Johnson

Summerhill is an old black neighborhood with small wood-frame houses, some proud and tidy, others derelict. Many of the houses are built into hillsides, and many of the porches are held up by haphazard stacks of cinder blocks. But even with such signs of decay, this is a real neighborhood. Olympic-ticket holders in shiny cars glide through the streets of Summerhill. They see a spot, they take it. Maybe they take in some local color along the way: a sign, pit cooked bar-b-q, pa pa jo hootie; a sundress on a hanger, drying in the hot breeze; an old woman tending her plants.

The houses of Summerhill are brightly colored, almost like those stucco houses in Caribbean tourist posters. Margaret Epps's house on Little Street used to be pink, sort of, she said. Then Operation Clean Brush came charging down her street. She was offered no choice about color: Get a yellow house, get a free paint job. She said yes. Before the painters came, the boss man wrote on the house, yellow. The painting took an hour or two, a spray job. Epps doesn't know yet if the color will hold up through a good rain.

"I guess they're trying to make the community look good," she said, standing in the shade of her porch, a cigarette in her hand. "They want the people to come back."


Shay dreams of being a gymnast.

photograph by
Lynn Johnson

Summerhill is a good place to be God-fearing. They're not much for government in Summerhill, but God's doing fine. You've got your Mount Zion Christian Church (John Hopkins, pastor). You've got your Church of God Holiness (James C. Taylor, pastor). You've got your Gateway Baptist Church (Joe D. Norman, pastor). You've got your Thankful Baptist Church (A.L. Jones, pastor). The churches are on Martin Street. So is the elementary school, Ralph Emerson McGill.

Behind a small gray house on Little Street there's a trampoline, and on the trampoline on a recent weekday morning were three kids who go to McGill: Ashiao Greenidge, who is 10; his half brother Wally Clark, who is eight; and their friend Archellian Bennett, a 10-year-old girl who goes by Shay.

"I want to be a gymnast, but my mom can't outfit me 'cause she don't got no money," Shay said. She did flips on the trampoline, forward and backward, one after another.

Linda Power

Linda Power (left) has a job at Olympic Stadium but only until the Games end.

photograph by
Lynn Johnson

Ashiao said Shay could become a gymnast. He wishes he were Shay's cousin, but he's not, so he's content to be her friend and adviser. He knows she could make it. "Got to get a good education," he said. "Got to have a good brain. Stay in school. And practice very, very hard." Wally nodded to all of this.

A Summerhill woman, Sophia Johnson, came by to watch Shay on the trampoline. Johnson had been trying to find parking customers, $10 a car, but business was slow. The night before, Johnson had watched the women gymnasts on TV, and she had not liked what she saw. "Can't nobody do stops and not move," she said, still upset that the women were having points deducted for less-than-perfect dismounts. "They shouldn't be taking off no points for that." Johnson wandered off. She was looking, she said, for $4. She said she wanted to buy some food. Down the street, Clemmons was holding up his parking sign. He was wearing Nike sneakers, but he was not happy about it.

Leroy Williams

Leroy Williams of Summerhill (right) tries to buy Olympic tickets that he hopes to resell.

photograph by
Lynn Johnson

"I don't really go for the Air Jordans," he said. "I don't go for all that goop they got on the bottom. I'm more of a Converse man myself, that's what I came up on, the All-Star. I like the Puma, too—like the cat. You give me $2 million to wear Nike or $1 million to wear the Puma, I'm gonna wear the Puma. Nothing against Nike, now. Just like the Puma."

A truck came down Little Street. Two white men were in the cab, bound for the Games. "Park here, my man, park right here," Clemmons called out to them, but they cruised on by.

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