Dressed in her work uniform, she caresses the head of the cane that Mobutu Sese Seko gave her 27 years ago. Khalilah claims she has made millions of dollars since divorcing Ali. But she declines to get into specifics about her finances. After selling her mansion in 2001, Khalilah says, she bounced between California and Illinois trying to figure out what to do with herself. "I want to get back into acting," she says. "I'd like to do commercials."
Khalilah moved to Miami in late 2008, settling into an apartment off NW Seventh Avenue and 58th Street. She found a job at the University of Miami Hospital and lasted two and half years before she was laid off. Last November, after relocating to North Beach, she was hired at Mount Sinai. Khalilah trains two days a week at the South Florida Boxing gym and goes to South Beach nightclubs to pass the time.
She insists she is not destitute. "I have a hidden trust," Khalilah says. "I spend my money wisely. Whatever I can't cover with my paycheck, I can dip into my trust."
She says she is renting her drab apartment while she shops for property in Miami Beach. She's being picky too. "I went to see a two-bedroom condo with no view the other day, and the woman wanted $275,000 for it," Khalilah says. "I asked her if she was out of her damned mind."
Khalilah puts down the cane and grabs her laptop. She opens a folder containing dozens of photographs and clicks through the images. There is one of Ali, with boxing promoter Don King, in his younger days in Africa. There are several pictures of her and Ali when she began dating him, including a shot in which a beaming Khalilah sits on the champ's lap.
She shows off photos of herself and her four children inside their opulent Chicago mansion as well as pics of her with celebrities she has met over the years, from those who have died, such as Sammy Davis Jr. and Teena Marie, to those who are still here, like P. Diddy and Jon Secada. Khalilah clicks on a folder of pictures from her daughter (Rasheda's twin) Jamillah's wedding in Naples last year. One of the photos shows Khalilah, wearing a spring dress and large matching hat, cheek-to-cheek with Ali. They are both smiling. "No matter what, we will always be friends," she says. "He was my first boyfriend. I was a virgin when we got married. He showed me what it was to be a strong woman."
Khalilah shuts down her computer and places it in a black book bag that she slings over her shoulder. She shuffles out of the room, humming a familiar refrain. "Ali-boom-bye-yae," she purrs. "Ali-boom-bye-yae."