Los Angeles Seifu Makonnen, a former Olympic boxer from Ethiopia, is undergoing treatment for kidney disease and waiting for a transplant.
Makonnen was once one of the most feared boxers in East Africa. A heavyweight with a fierce punch, he was called Tibo, Amharic for “knockout.”
He has a clutch of gold medals from various victories across the world and a tattoo on his right shoulder of five interlocked rings a reminder of when he represented Ethiopia at the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich.
But he hit his peak just as a hard-line military junta swept into power in his country, after the 1974 ousting of Emperor Haile Selassie I.
The communist regime put him in jail for several months. Later he was sent to train in Cuba. On a layover in Montreal on the way back to Ethiopia, he slipped a letter to airport police seeking political asylum.
He moved to Los Angeles with refugee status in 1978 and gave up boxing for another fight.
When Makonnen arrived in L.A., there were no Ethiopian restaurants or churches.
“Back then, everybody was on his own,” he said.
Makonnen helped found St. Mary’s Ethiopian Apostolic Church on Compton Avenue, the nation’s first Ethiopian church. While living in Washington, D.C., briefly, he opened a health center where Ethiopian athletes could train and started a weekly radio program about Ethiopian sports.
He helped build the community that now is helping him. For full report, visit the Los Angeles Times.