While scrolling Facebook yesterday, I saw the headline “Muhammad Ali On Life Support”. I immediately felt a knot in my stomach. For as long as I can remember, Ali has been my personal example of a superhero in the flesh. The knot came into my stomach because in many ways like one of our greatest heroes, our community is on life support. Due to concentrated poverty, apathy, the funding infrastructure for schools & the breakdown of our families – black people in America are in the fight for our lives.
Seeing Ali tower over his opponents with such fierceness and power was a visual reminder that any challenge – no matter how great could be overcome. Ali reminded us through his presence and his poetry that whatever we set out in our minds to do -we could accomplish. Long before the mindfulness movement became mainstream, and far in advance of the affirmation movement, Ali was showing us how to recognize, declare and walk in our greatness.
I couldn’t sleep last night because I couldn’t stop thinking about The Champ’s condition. The headline, “Muhammad Ali Dies at the age of 74” and a waterfall of tears came. The tears came because our hero had made his transition and all I could think about was the fact that we have more African American millionaires than we’ve had in history. We have more ways to use our platform via social media than we’ve ever had before but we have more black men in prison than we’ve ever had before. 47% of our African American 18 – 24 year olds in Chicago are either unemployed or not in school. Our community is the epicenter in many ways of health disparities. We are still trying to convince people that we are human, that we matter and that we are deserving of our basic human rights, but we’ve gotten so caught up in our individual pursuit of happiness and success that we’ve lost sight of our collective pursuit of happiness and success.
Our Brother, Muhammad Ali, used every opportunity to speak about and highlight institutional racism & he did so unapologetically, coherently & swiftly. He used his platform to uplift his people, even when that meant he would suffer personally. He lived on the Southside of Chicago at one point, and he was accessible to his people. He shared his love and his presence with our brothers and sisters in Africa – at a time when it wasn’t trendy or popular to do so. He affirmed their humanity!
We need a million men like Ali to rise up in his place. Men of character. Men of integrity. We have many men walking around with the intellectual and athletic skill of Ali, but we have few with the integrity and the heart of Ali – and that’s why I cry. The year is 2016. In numerology, 9 is the number of completion, so I am not totally surprised that Ali (and so many other great human beings) made his exit this year because he left just as poetically as he arrived.
In 1954, a 12 year old Cassius Clay had his bike stolen, which lead him to a gym as he sought revenge from the thief. Interestingly enough Joe Martin, a white police officer told him he’d “better learn to box.”
This past year, I had the opportunity to attend Rumble Young Man, Rumble an event that took place at the Muhammad Ali Center, sponsored by the Campaign for Black Male Achievement. The Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville Kentucky is the epicenter for black male achievement work and multiple leaders gathered to share ideas, build coalitions and center ourselves to return home to continue to work on improving the world for African American men and boys.
Here are my photos from the Rumble:
Ali is the stuff that legends are made of and I am certain that because of his example, we will all continue to pursue the greatest versions of ourselves and once we do that our people will be the greatest version of ourselves…