On Saturday I wrote to a friend who is a journalist here in Atlanta that "I've never felt more connected to a person that I'd never met, than Muhammad Ali". It would be remiss of me if I didn't add that this was like BILLIONS more around the world who also felt that connection. I loved and respected this Brother immensely. The first time I saw him in person was in 1963, my senior year of high school in Pittsburgh when my father took me and my brother to see him fight Charlie Powell the former football player. Yes, he predicted the round and proceeded to knock out Powell accordingly.
Just about one year later as a freshman in college I can recall listening to the first fight with Sonny Liston on the radio (with all of the excitement as though I was at the fight) in the freshman dorms. When I found out that I shared the same birthday with Ali, albeit four years apart, I think it cemented my connection to him.
by David Zirin
Of course I was at every fight via closed circuit at one theatre or another during his career. What I loved MUCH MORE than his boxing prowess was his love of the common man/people. On Saturday after watching several hours of tributes, the one that ran electricity through my body was when he was quoted as saying, and I paraphrase "I've got it made, but until the majority of my people have it made, I won't be happy". I think that's the missing ingredient today, is that too many of us who have or think they have "achieved" have no regard for our Brothers and Sisters still caught in the Matrix of poverty, crime and destitution.
Plus, it must be acknowledged that his outsized personality had a positive impact on people of color all over the globe, in terms of elevating our self esteem. Can you say "Ali gum-bay-ye"? And I think one of his greatest attributes was his "playfulness". I think his "poetry", his spontaneity and overall charisma was the light touch to his "heavy" message of Black pride, when it had been so thoroughly beaten out of us and nearly forgotten by most of us. And surely his overall LOVE OF PEOPLE was the shining light until he departed.
There were so many tributes quoted on ESPN's coverage of Ali that ran about four hours Saturday morning, some of them brought tears to my eyes. There was much more to our connection than a birthday. I, like Ali, embraced Islam and we both evolved over time. Plus, when I decided to take that step, I had been out of college for three years working in corporate America, seeing the "process" up close and personal. And although I was "in", I knew that door had been barred and or the stairway to success was being blocked to most of us. And now after spending eleven years in that atmosphere and looking back, I have come to the conclusion that for Black people writ large it (integration) has been economically devastating. Yes, a few of us have ascended, but we no longer have any control over our own communities and the biggest loss was our ability in our communities to HIRE OUR OWN PEOPLE, and pay them a living wage. I always defer to the great achievements of "Black Wall Street" in Tulsa, OK of the 1920's where prosperity was a piece of heaven on Earth for that Black community. And even into the early 60's, Black communities across America were still thriving and underwriting a Black middle class that has been reduced to a skeleton of its former self. We just don't control our economic destiny any longer. And this Brother was willing to forfeit his access to enormous wealth, to stand up for his convictions.
From my perspective, I think Ali standing up to the government and refusing to become part of an Army killing people of color as he said, "10,000 miles away" was a gift to every Black person in America. (No Viet Cong has ever called me a "snicker"). Like his boxing gifts to us, we loved him and it was to a large extent because he kept winning. (All the world loves a winner.) And his standing up to the government was a gift to us because he won that battle too; showing us that you can stand up for your convictions.
One of his daughters expressed her happiness for her father for no longer being confined in his Earthly body and it's ailments. I can relate to that too because I was happy for my father to embark on his journey because of him contracting polio as a child and seeing him labor too hard with his crippled leg and the attendant immobility as he aged. My father came to me in a dream the night he transitioned and said, "don't worry, I'll be with you always now". When I woke up the next morning I was so calm, so much so that I was able to deliver his eulogy at his "home going"! And we were best of buds.
In case we have forgotten, Martin Luther King backed him 100%. Of all of the tributes and quotes that I saw streaming on ESPN, I loved most was the one from LeBron James where he thoughtfully acknowledged Ali and many of the Brothers from the article below for making it possible to achieve what he has achieved. I think more than any other athlete on the world stage today, LeBron may embody that same spirit as Muhammad. LeBron was the prime mover for the show of solidarity by NBA Players when we lost the young Brother Trayvon Martin, and he was willing to NOT play basketball if the NBA Commissioner had not moved on the Donald Sterling issue.
The article below from the NY Times I think is one of the best in summing up the life of Ali, that I've read - "Muhammad Ali Evolved From a Blockbuster Fighter to a Country's Conscience".
Peace and blessings on your Divine Journey Muhammad