Lem Satterfield

Alexander hears Obama speak, shakes his hand


It was one thing for Devon Alexander to be invited to a special VIP reception whose grand honoree was none other than President Barack Obama.

It was quite another to be within speaking distance of the United State's first African American commander in chief, and, ultimately, to shake his hand.

"I still can't believe that I met President Barack Obama," said the 24-year-old Alexander. "I mean, I was so close to him."

A former WBC/IBF junior welterweight titleholder, Alexander and his trainer,  Kevin Cunningham, were among the select group who were invited to attend a fundraiser on Tuesday night at the Renaissance Grand Hotel downtown in Alexander's native downtown St. Louis.

In February, Manny Pacquiao met Obama at the White House as part of the press tour promoting what would be his unanimous decision victory over Shane Mosley in May.

Referring to the fact that Alexander has recently climbed into the welterweight division, Cunningham said, "I guess that Manny Pacquiao isn't the only top welterweight who will meet President Barack Obama."

"It was standing-room only, and they had a rope and about 100 secret service men in between us. I probably could have tried to reach out and touch him any time that I wanted to," said Alexander.

"But that would have been tough, because I'm sure that all of the security guards around him would have probably tried to tackle me."

The event was part of a campaign fundraising tour focusing on the Midwest heading into the 2012 election season during which Obama spent about four hours speaking at two different St. Louis venues.

"I would say there were about 200 people. We were there for about three or for hours. They had food for the VIP members before he came out," said Alexander.

"When they said that it was time to gather round because Obama was getting ready to come out, I knew every one was going to try to get there, so we hustled to get where we needed to be."

Following the dinner in an intimate dining room and a "20-to-25-minute speech" by Obama, Alexander said took advantage of the chance to shake the president's hand.

"Most definitely. I got to shake his hand. He came down off the podium. I couldn't say too much to him because of the secret service men there. But he looked me in the eye and said, 'Okay, nice to meet you son,' and, you know, 'Do good,'" said Alexander.

"I told him 'My name is Devon Alexander, and I'm supporting you 100 percent.' He said, 'I appreciate that.'
Obama was really campaigning, man. It was nice. It was just amazing. I am truly at a loss. Words can't describe what it's like to meet the president. All that goes into him coming here. It's an amazing thing."

This from a man with an exemplary record for inflicting violence on others for a living.

Alexander (22-1, 13 KOs) once vanquished four world champions over a three-years span, including England's Junior Witter in August of 2009 by eighth-round stoppage for the WBC crown, and Colombian-born southpaw Juan Urango in his next fight in March of last year for the IBF belt by eighth-round knockout.

Alexander also owns a unanimous decision over former world champions DeMarcus Corley and Andriy Kotelnik.

 Corley, Witter and Urango were defeated by Alexander in as many consecutive fights, with Witter and Urango being stopped for the first time in their respective careers.

Alexander had been the lone fighter in the junior welterweight division to have unified crowns prior to being stripped of his IBF belt for going through with a bout against WBO junior welterweight beltholder Tim Bradley (27-0, 11 KOs), to whom he lost a unanimous decision in January.

Alexander rebounded with a split-decision win over hard-hitting Lucas Matthysse (28-2, 26 KOs) in June.

Alexander has risen into the welterweight class, where he hopes to earn a shot at either Manny Pacquiao, Vyacheslav Senchenko, Andre Berto or Floyd Mayweather Jr., titleholders in the WBO, WBA, IBF and WBC.

But nothing Alexander will do in the ring will ever compare to meeting the president.

"This ranks at No. 1. This has to be the No. 1 accomplishment in my life. Meeting the president is the ultimate," said Alexander.

"I don't think that you can get any bigger than that. At this point in my life, meeting President Barack Obama is the No. 1 thing."

Despite his proximity to Obama, Alexander still is not very far from the memory of his youth in an embattled section of St. Louis, Mo., called Hyde Park.

One of 13 children born to Sharon Alexander, Devon Alexander was essentially rescued by Cunningham, a former narcotics detective who was working as a patrol man monitoring local elementary schools.

Cunningham recruited Alexander and 29 other children into boxing, offering an abandoned police station and former shooting range turned recreation center as a respite from the crack-fueled neighborhood run by notorious street gangs the Crips and The Bloods.

Alexander's mother reluctantly allowed her son to begin boxing for Cunningham at the age of seven, but the decision to do so saved his life.

"I definitely grew up less fortunate and I came out of it. So there's no reason for any kid out there not to think that they can achieve anything if they set out to. I definitely have a testimony for them," said Alexander, a father of two children, Devon, 6, and Deniyah, 5.

"Never million years did I think that I would ever be standing next to the president. It's an amazing feeling, and you never take that lightly. I've got some stuff to tell kids from the neighborhood for years to come. I can be like, 'Man, do you know that I got to meet President Barack Obama?'"


Lem Satterfield can be reached at lem.satterfield@gmail.com

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