Shortly after Charleston Mayor Joe Riley helped Al “Hollywood” Meggett unveil a plaque honoring the boxing legend Tuesday at the Arthur W. Christopher Community Center, Meggett turned the tables on the mayor.
Meggett, 84, presented the mayor with a large framed photo of a much younger Riley hitting the speed bag at Meggett’s Charleston Boxing Club gym on upper King Street.
“Hollywood came to see me in my office 30-plus years ago with his idea of a boxing club,” Riley recalled before unveiling the Life Acheivement Award plaque honoring the founder and patriarch of the Charleston Boxing Club. “He boxed with and worked with the greatest. He offered his talents to the community.”
Over the years, Meggett has coached and mentored thousands of youngsters who have gone on to become business leaders, Riley said. And many showed up for Tuesday’s ceremony, along with family members and friends.
“People have gone all over the world from that gym. We’ve accomplished so much with the kids,” Meggett said.
Riley said Meggett’s boxing program was a “human building process” that not only emphasized physical fitness but life lessons, learning about practice, hard work, being in shape, staying in shape and listening.
“They left with something they still carry with them — ethics, self-esteem and intestinal fortitude,” Riley said.
Meggett, who is orginially from New York City, spent four years in Charleston in the 1950s while serving in the U.S. Navy, then returned in 1979 with his idea for a place to train and instruct young boxers. One of his early supporters was now-retired Charleston Police Lt. Bob Roberts, a former Golden Gloves boxer, who through the Police Athletic League helped Meggett acquire the space over an old city fire station.
“He had a vision and I was very supportive,” Roberts said, adding that former Police Chief Reuben Greenberg and Riley also supported the idea. “It all came together. He got the place over the firehouse and it’s been there for 33 years. It was the right people coming together. In the early years, the city provided a lot of financial support and manpower. It took on a life of its own. He’s done a remarkable job.”
It has become more difficult for Meggett in recent years. The training program, once sponsored by the Charleston Police Department, is on its own financially, and Meggett continues to seek funding from individual and corporate sponsors to keep it going.
“I can tell you stories all day. What I really want to talk about is funding for my program,” Meggett said. “Gather your stars and cast them out, the good and the bad. The program on King Street, we’ve got to keep it going. Mayor Riley, we’re going to do some more. All we’ve got to do is get some money.”