By Casey Tindell-Trejo
For the 2014 Cooperative Coffee’s annual general meeting in Louisville, Ky.’s Muhammad Ali Center, Dan Bailey, owner of Amavida Coffee & Tea, took me, along with fellow employees Johnny Shine and Colt Austin, to represent Amavida, a Coop Coffees member. As an icebreaker, we were instructed to write an interesting fact about ourselves and, unbeknownst to the rest of us, Dan had it easy; he had a connection to legendary prize fighter Muhammad Ali that just had to be shared.
As we sat motionless, surrounded by paintings and memorabilia of Ali, we were told a short tale of great courage and love, two qualities that he is known for. As Dan tells it, his parents, Desmond and Joy Bailey, were living in Iraq in 1990 at the beginning of the Gulf War. On Aug. 1, a mere day before Iraq invaded Kuwait, their home camp was surrounded by machine gun em-placements, a move to strategically target American workers. Two months later, Saddam Hussein released Joy with the rest of the women and children to be transported to Jordan and make their way back to the United States, but the men were forced to remain captive. Hussein then placed the hostages in strategic locations across Iraq to ward off American attacks, essentially using the men as human shields. Desmond, the manager of an American-owned industrial complex in Iraq, was moved to Bagdad. Joy recalls upon hearing the news, “I knew something was happening and that my husband may never make it back.”
Nov. 22, 1990, Muhammad Ali traveled to Baghdad with former U.S. Attorney Gen. Ramsey Clark. With the help of Ali’s incredible popularity and prestige in the Muslim world, they hoped to negotiate the hostages’ release. Despite criticism from American media, Ali managed to meet with Hussein, free the remaining 15 American hostages, and fly them home to the United States by Dec. 2, 1990. Desmond Bailey was one of these men.
Upon hearing Dan’s story, our host Mike Mays of Louisville-based Heine Brothers’ Coffee asked Dan to follow him outside the room, because there was someone who wanted to meet him. Muhammad Ali was staying at the center with his wife Yolanda and greeted Dan with a fist bump. Dan was able to thank Ali for freeing his father, give him another fist bump, and take a priceless photo with him. As Dan walked away from a meeting he thought he would never have, Muhammad Ali’s famous grin followed him out. Ali once said, “The service you do for others is the rent you pay for your room on Earth.” If this is true, Muhammad Ali, then you’ve earned yourself a penthouse suite.
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