Ethiopian boxing legend gets help from Los Angeles Ethiopians


Ethiopians in Los Angeles hold a fundraiser to assist Ethiopian boxing legend Seifu Makonnen who represented Ethiopia at the Olympics. Seifu, who is popularly knows as Tibo, is suffering from a kidney disease and is currently waiting for a transplant. The Los Angels Times has the following report:

By Kate Linthicum

Nearly every month in Los Angeles, Ethiopians host a benefit [to support fellow countrymen]. Earlier this year, at events for two compatriots with cancer, Abebe’s group raised more than $55,000.

It’s not as if they have time or money to spare. Many Ethiopians here work as taxicab drivers or parking attendants, and most send large remittances to relatives back home. But they give because they know that if ever they need help, they will get it. They give because this is a community that takes care of its own.

You can see it at the home of a family that has just lost a loved one, where friends arrive for days of mourning, each with food, drinks or an envelope of money. You can see it at the hospital, where it’s not uncommon for an Ethiopian patient to receive 300 visitors a day.

It’s a way of life they learned at home, and it helps keeps them connected here.

Seeking asylum

Seifu Mekonnen was once one of the most feared boxers in East Africa. A heavyweight with a fierce punch, he was called Tibo, Amharic for “knockout.”

Ethiopian boxer Seifu Mekonnen

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.

Together to help

The fundraiser-planning dinners have the feel of school board meetings. Decisions are made by consensus. Each person takes notes. One woman jots down the minutes, which are later typed up and sent out on the group’s listserv.

After three months of twice-monthly get-togethers, the event hall has been rented and the musicians’ travel arranged. But there is still much to be done. The invitations must be printed and the dinner menu chosen. Someone needs to make the rounds of all the Ethiopian-owned businesses to sell ad space in the February gala’s program.

The volunteers have embraced the American “do-it-yourself” ethic, with an Ethiopian flavor. Those who are hungry order food, and all eat from the same plate. They never raise their voices during two hours of sorting out event details. The meetings get heated only at the end, when the bill comes and they argue over who gets to pay it.

Beloved figure

Abebe first met Makonnen when he moved to L.A. in 1983. The former boxer was driving a taxi then, and he taught the newcomer from Addis Ababa how to find his way across a vast, unfamiliar metropolis.

Makonnen was diagnosed with diabetes in the 1980s.

The man who once skipped deftly in the boxing ring now steps slowly. He spends three days a week at a clinic undergoing dialysis. The treatments leave him exhausted and unable to work.

When Abebe heard about the fundraiser for his old mentor, he happily agreed to help. He drives to the Little Ethiopia meeting from Inglewood, where he lives with his wife and two children. Others come from the San Fernando Valley and Orange County.

“A lot of people love him and know him,” Abebe said of Makonnen, who has two grown children. “He needs another chance to live.”

When Makonnen heard about the gala, he was happy but not surprised.

“In Ethiopia, there is no ‘individual,’ ” he said. “You help people, and they’ll do good for you.”


11 thoughts on “Ethiopian boxing legend gets help from Los Angeles Ethiopians

  1. Tezibt on

    I know Tibo. We lived in the same Kebele near English school in Addis. I was a little boy when he was a popular figure. All I remember is is afro hair. Time changes and people change too, sad but true that people that were popular for their great achievements in all fields are slowly fading away. I am afraid that we don’t see replacements in all areas. What is replacing this great men and women is bickering, treachery, hatred, greed, power mongering, gossip, inflation etc… God bless Ethiopia

  2. Ethiopian on

    May God of Ethiopia keep you Seifu Mekonnen, May He shower you with His charity and healthy life, for nothing is impossible to Him

  3. Teshome on

    I know Seifu (Tibo). We grew up in the same village around Kebena. Prior to becoming to a national boxer, Seifu was a fearless fighter in school and everywhere in Addis. At the same time he was very gentle and graceful. God be with him.

  4. Fashion Designer on

    Prominent individuals in the greater Los Angeles area are the hope for the retired senior Ethiopian – Americans future. Since most of them got here with not enough education trying to escape the derg’s killing machine with no access to success, all Ethiopian businesses and fortunate individuals need to be on thier side for financial and moral support.

  5. treaty on

    May the LORD comfort you and your family in this tring season that you are passing through.Keep your hope in him for your recovery.I pray may the Lord sends healing and peace to you.

  6. Haile on

    Who doesn’t know Seifu, we in Boston know him too. We will do our best to get in touch with him and do what we can.
    For now we keep praying for him.

  7. selamu on

    እባካቹህ የማቴሪያል ድጋፍ ነው የሚያስፈልግው:: ጋዜጠኛው የሚለው ሌላ አስተያየት ሰጪው የሚለው ሌላ::

  8. Tezebet on

    Very sorry to hear that Tibo is in this condition, as a very young kids I remember him passing my parents home and I still see him the way he walk, he has his unique way of walking… I used to see him when I go to YMCA…. He was a wonderful guy and I found him a very nice guy when I meet him in Washington DC about 15 years ago ago. Can anybody knows the bank account to send him money.

    Tezibt, I think you and me grow up the same area…. I don’t know the age difference but the place you said your home is the same place that I grow up…

  9. Tiruneh on

    I pray that Tibo will have a successful recovery. We all need to thank FASSIL Abebe for doing the difficult job of organizing the fundraising on behalf of us. Although, the focus of the story is not about the fundraising effort, at least FASSIL Abebe needs to be fully acknowledged with honest reporting. Kate Linthicum’s of the LA Times narrates her article involving FASSIL with clear intention. In my opinion, removing a significant paragraph from the story will distort the message and reflects badly on the editors professional obligation.
    I hope you, the editor, will take my honest criticism.

  10. Mekonnen Girma on

    I am the chairman of the 17 person committee who is organizing the fund raising party. Those of you who like to send donation may send it to
    OneWest Bank 850 Wilshire Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90401 ATT. Martha Negash

    Please make the check payable to Seifu Mekonnen

    All proceedings will go to benefit Seifu Tibo.

    Our event is on February 5, 2011 at 7 PM in Proud Bird Hall featuring Mohammed Ahmed and Teshome Miteku

    Event tickets are available in most LA restaurants or go to SeifuTibo.org

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