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My Meeting with Muhammad Ali

The year was 1971 or thereabouts. I calculate my age to have been 16 and we - my family and I - had recently moved to Panama. My father’s occupation took us to a number of foreign destinations and this one happened to be during my high school years. I was entering 11th grade at the time.

As customary, we stayed at a local hotel whenever we first first arrived to allow time for our permanent residence, so to speak, to be made ready. This would serve as a pleasant and nice interim location that accommodated us well as we awaited moving into our new home.

While at the hotel, somehow it came to my attention that Muhammad Ali was staying there, as well! There must have been a boxing match scheduled to necessitate his presence.

Well, I was thrilled to hear this! I am no boxing aficionado but he was well-known and seemed worthy of acute interest. It’s interesting. Somehow it seemed so natural to take the opportunity to seek out his company, so I found myself doing just that! Not long after, I was knocking on his door; having somehow acquired his room number. (I think the front desk just gave it to me, which-in retrospect-seems pretty incredible.) I vaguely remember that I brought a friend along but I cannot tell you who that was. That particular factoid is lost to the mists of memory, for whatever reason….

The door opened and we were led to a room where Muhammad Ali came in soon after and joined us. Here we were, two teenage girls of no particular importance, but he made the decision - for whatever reason - to spend time with us.

I was aware of other people being around but they were very much in the background…

We must have been with him for a good 30-45 minutes, just sitting there, as he spoke about various topics and recited his poetry with his marvelous cadence. I remember one line of poetry referenced a little black boy and a little white boy, and my impression then and these many years later is that he was indeed referencing the issue of racism. It was all done gently and I detected an innate idealism.

Our meeting came to a natural end. We bid farewell and were seen out. My takeaway these many years later is that he was a lovely man, a lovely human, who had the generosity of spirit to share his company with two young people just because. There was a purity and sweetness that attended this time together with him.

I know, of course, he’s recognized for his greatness in the ring; but I would say his greatness was evident that day in his very way of being, his kindness, and certainly cannot be confined principally to the boxing arena.

It was apparent that he had an inborn greatness, and chose to share it for a time with us that day. And, for that I am grateful.

Annie Kiyonaga

October 12, 2021

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