As you walked in the room you were greeted by a couple dozen people smiling waiting for Allah Meggett to begin a recognition of the gathering. As you waited, one could smell the lingering scent of newly unwrapped gym flooring and a faint smell of the fresh paint.
The chatter in the room was lighthearted but significant, if you perked your ear you could pick up on two common themes in the different conversations – boxing and ‘Hollywood’ Meggett.
A woman and a child walked in and immediately captured the attention of Allah, Hollywood’s son. Sonseeahray Nelson-Gathers found out about the gym’s reopening in the news earlier on Monday and decided to bring her 9-year-old grandson Amiri Sarvis to check out the newly renovated club.
Nelson-Gathers said both of her ex-husbands were boxers and “they really enjoyed the sport and they also wanted to do things to help children develop.” Sarvis, full of energy, quickly began to make himself at home. Exploring the premises with the curiosity of any child his age.
Darren “Broadway” Whitaker joined the boxing club in November of 1983. “I found a home here. I found a reason to be here and a reason to continue,” he said.
Whitaker is now the head coach at the gym.
“Hollywood teaches a lot and we spend a lot of time together. So I think I gained a lot of knowledge that he was passing on,” added Whitaker. “Hollywood is a very disciplined and very punctual person. So you learn a lot about yourself as far as how you carry yourself, because he’s going to make sure that you do that the right way.”
It has been almost five months since Hollywood’s passing and Whitaker finds it hard to refer to him in past tense. When asked about it, the new coach paused to process his thoughts and said, “Hollywood was like a father, a brother, a friend. We hung out a lot. I spent a lot of time with Hollywood, so he just influenced my life basically in a lot of different ways. Not just boxing, just how I live my life.”
The energy in the room was joyful yet you could feel the heavy hearts. We were experiencing saudade, the presence of absence.
Sitting on a bench outside the gym after thanking everyone for being present, Allah looks at the sky and says, “I tell you, it’s amazing. It’s an amazing feeling – this common breeze. It’s an amazing feeling and feels like he’s with us.”
The historic gym has made a lasting impact on the lives of many young people. Teaching discipline and determination to anyone who was interested. “In the beginning, my dad used to get mad when they would say, ‘this program is for at-risk kids and it’s for all kids, and that’s what it is,” said Allah.
“People would think that [Hollywood] didn’t know the names because he called them champ. But that’s what he wanted to put in your mind, every time that he saw you that someone thought that you were a champion,” Allah added.
Darrell Singleton, a pro boxer, said he joined Hollywood’s boxing program when he was 12 back in the 80’s. He and Hollywood traveled all over the country until he became a professional boxer. Singleton said he “became a great fighter. Madison Square Garden loved me. You know, he took me on the road. We turned King Street Palace out. The old County Hall. And um, you know, I could never have done that without the great teaching of Hollywood Meggett you understand?”
Singleton, visibly emotional, said Hollywood and the Charleston Boxing Club saved his life. “When I was 12 he might have been in his 50’s. You know what I’m saying? So, he gave me just how much time of his life? – that we shared,” he added.
Slowed Progress, But Vision At Full Steam
In 2018 the club closed due to the structural condition of the building.
Hollywood was eager for the gym to reopen. He told Live 5 News back in 2019 that the closing was painful. In the time since — the community rallied to help the reopening happen in hopes that the legendary figure would help train a new generation of boxers.
Whitaker says he feels ready to be head coach because he learned so much from Hollywood. “ I just wasn’t ready for him to leave. He’s supposed to be here with me for this part to get me started. But um, I guess he figured… I had enough,” he said with a knot in his throat.
Today, Hollywood’s legacy at the Charleston Boxing Club will continue. Whitaker remembers the last time he walked the unfinished gym with him less than a year ago after a doctor’s appointment. “This particular day we rode by, and the project manager was here. And I brought him in to take pictures because he hadn’t seen it to this point. And he was pleased. He was pleased. We took that picture. That was our last picture together. This was my father man. This was my father,” Whitaker said.
Allah, who lives in Atlanta, said his father would often call him after checking in on the renovation progress, “he’s pointing to things that he’s going to do. [He] showed me his imagination. And now it’s out there…He pointed where he wanted his bags, that’s where his bags are. Where he wanted his ring, that’s where the ring is. Where he wanted his desk, that’s where his desk is. So just to be able to do that, and, you know, not try to change anything to keep it the same way. The same honesty, same discipline, same respect. And it’s beautiful.”
Holding back tears Allah said, “you know it’s emotional. Dad’s Day Yeah. Oh man. Can’t imagine all the guys in there man. It’s crazy. Feels good. It feels real good. It feels good.”
The reopening also marked what would have been Hollywood’s 91st birthday.
I ask him, what would you say to your father? Allah takes a deep breath and lets the tears run down his face, “I would say thank you. I love you. This is for you champ.”