From Preparation to Connection: Reflecting on My Interview with Lonnie Ali

Client: Kentucky Tourism | Role: Interviewer, Lead Videographer | Location: Louisville, Kentucky

 

Diving headfirst into the heart and soul of Kentucky has been an ongoing gig for over a decade, thanks to partnerships with Kentucky Tourism, Miles Media, and Odyssey Studios. From touring the bourbon-soaked barrel rooms to savoring culinary masterpieces, encountering champion horses, exploring the untamed outdoors, and engaging in the vibrant art scene in Paducah, my adventures through the Bluegrass State are always unforgettable. Each project is a new chapter, a fresh story to tell. But nothing compares to the journey that “Untold to the Unforgettable” took me on.

This series? It’s a deep dive into the stories that stitch the very fabric of Kentucky together – tales of African American heroes, past and present. Think Michael Morrow, fighting the good fight to keep history alive; Ed Hamilton, who sculpted his path from modest beginnings to art world acclaim; and Yvonne Giles, “The Cemetery Lady,” who’s made it her life’s mission to bring names to the nameless souls laid to rest in unmarked graves. These narratives are the raw, unfiltered spirit of Kentucky.

So, when the opportunity to interview Lonnie Ali, a figure of immense importance in the African American community, came my way, I was thrilled. I felt excitement and nervousness as I prepared for my flight to Louisville. It’s a familiar feeling when stepping into the unknown, especially when that step takes you from the urgent streets of New York to the calming heartland of Kentucky. My evening at Proof on Main, downtown Louisville, was a moment of calm before the storm. As I shared my purpose for being in town with the bartender, Peggy, and my apprehension about the upcoming interview, she offered a piece of advice, “Treat her like she’s your aunt, and you’ll be just fine.” Simple words, yet they hit home. It made sense because I knew what she meant.

Morning comes, and there I am, ready to get it crackin’. Or, more accurately, ready to sit down with Lonnie Ali. While we all waited for Lonnie to arrive, I studied the additional questions curated by Kentucky Tourism, primed to steer the conversation but flexible enough to follow its natural flow. The room’s buzzing with the energy of the Kentucky Tourism team, the production crew, and folks from the Muhammad Ali Center. Then, Lonnie Ali steps in, and the room shifts – there’s this warmth, an immediate sense of connection. Everybody greets everybody, hands are shaken, and smiles are exchanged. No one holds court; we are about to begin.

Once the pleasantries amongst the teams were complete, I found a window to prep Lonnie for the questions I’d be asking her. I showed her my clipboard, and she reviewed a number of the questions and said, “I’m not answering these questions! What does this have to do with Muhammad Ali?” she challenged. Time stood still; the room fell silent, every eye fixed on us. Yet, recalling Peggy’s advice from the bar, I kept my cool. Giving Lonnie, my best nephew-energy, I said, “Uhm, we still have to do the interview. How about this…” I handed her my pen. “How about you scratch off all the questions you have no desire to answer, and I’ll ask you the rest?” just like Peggy suggested, she turned into Aunt Lonnie and said, “Yes, ok, that works.” And proceeded to redact my print-out. It all worked out.

Once the cameras were rolling, everyone settled in. I cracked a few jokes before we got to the questions, and at that point, we were no longer just interviewer and interviewee; we were two people connecting on a human level, sharing stories with laughter and having a great conversation. I even managed to get Lonnie to answer a few of the questions she crossed off as follow-up questions for the client. It was just another day of productive fun in the Bluegrass State.

About the Video: “Hear unique insights into the life of a man known simply as “The Greatest” from the woman who knew him best: Muhammad Ali’s wife, Lonnie Ali. As she peels back the layers to help preserve her late husband’s legacy, listen as a woman of substance, intelligence and compassion in her own right tells her stories of love and perseverance – not just of the boxer, but of the man.”

Thanks for walking with me.

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