Saturday, February 19, 2011

African American History Month - Muhammad Ali

African American History Month

I first met Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay at the time) when he would visit his friends in Springfield, Massachusetts. He would do his daily workout in Blunt Park and then have breakfast at his friend’s house in Amore village. I lived in the neighborhood and we were always welcomed to attend. He was a pleasure to be around and we all admired him because he was able to speak up for himself publicly in an era when it could have been dangerous to do so.

So why do I, a pacifist, have so much admiration for a pugilist? Here is why. When Muhammad was inducted into the U.S. Armed Forces in 1966 he declared himself a conscientious objector.

At the time the United States was engaged in the Vietnam War. Muhammad stated that "War is against the teachings of the Holy Qur'an." When appearing for his scheduled induction into the U.S. Armed Forces on April 28, 1967 in Houston, he refused three times to step forward at the call of his name. He was warned that was committing a felony punishable by five years in prison and a fine of $10,000. Once more, Muhammad refused to budge when his name was called. As a result, on that same day, the New York State Athletic Commission suspended his boxing license and stripped him of his title. Other boxing commissions followed suit.

At the trial two months later he was found guilty. After a court of appeals upheld the conviction, the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. Later, on June 28, 1971, the Supreme Court reversed his conviction for refusing induction by unanimous decision in Clay v. United States.

Boxing fans adored his courage in the ring and he is widely respected, but I admire the courage he displayed in his personal lifestyle.

I saw him again in 1985 when I was having breakfast with a friend, Susana, at a well-known hotel in London, England. He was walking through the buffet line selecting items for his meal. I was amazed to see the difference in him. He had his forever-present smile on his face but his ambulation was slow and his hands and arms were trembling noticeably. I had heard that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s but was not prepared to see how it was affecting this courageous warrior.

Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., was born January 17 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky. He was named after his father, Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr., who was named for the 19th century abolitionist and politician Cassius Clay. He changed his name after joining the Nation of Islam in 1964, subsequently converting to Sunni Islam in 1975 and then Sufism.

Daring to go against political policy to help people in need, Muhammad has made goodwill missions to Afghanistan and North Korea; delivered sorely needed medical supplies to an embargoed Cuba; traveled to Iraq and secured the release of 15 United States hostages during the first Gulf War; and journeyed to South Africa to meet Nelson Mandela upon his release from prison.

Today, championing the issues in the developing world has become a major focus of his life. He has been instrumental in providing over 232 million meals to the world's hungry. Traveling across continents, he has hand-delivered food and medical supplies to children in Cote D'Ivoire, Indonesia, Mexico, and Morocco among other countries.

In addition to his international efforts, Muhammad is equally devoted to helping charities at home. He has visited countless numbers of soup kitchens and hospitals, and helped such organizations as the Make-A-Wish-Foundation and the Special Olympics.

To me his greatest triumph lies in his legacy as a champion, leader, humanitarian, and artist. His honors and recognitions include: (read this list slowly to allow these thought-provoking words to sink in)

• Sports Illustrated's "Sportsman of the Century"
• BBC's "Sports Personality of the Century"
• GQ magazine's "Athlete of the Century"
• World Sports Award's "World Sportsman of the Century"
• United Nations Messenger of Peace in 1998-2008, for his work with developing nations
• Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, the United States of America's highest civil award
• Amnesty International's Lifetime Achievement Award
• Germany's 2005 Otto Hahn Peace Medal, for his involvement in the U.S. civil rights movement and the United Nations
• International Ambassador of Jubilee 2000, a global organization dedicated to relieving debt in developing nations
• State of Kentucky's "Kentuckian of the Century"
• The Advertising Club of Louisville's "Louisvillian of the Century"
and February 12,2009 - NAACP's President Award

Other honors include an Essence Award, an XNBA Human Spirit Award and recognition from the National Urban League; 100 Black Men; Givat Haviva; the Oleander Foundation; The National Conference of Christians and Jews; TIME magazine and many other.

President Jimmy Carter once cited Muhammad as "Mr. International Friendship."

Muhammad published ‘The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life's Journey’ in which he discusses the meaning of religion, forgiveness, and some of the defining moments in his life and career. He is also the co-author of 'Healing: A Journal of Tolerance and Understanding' and 'The Greatest: My Own Story.'

Whether promoting tolerance and understanding, feeding the hungry, studying his religion, or reaching out to children in need, Muhammad Ali is devoted to making the world a better place for all people. No athlete has ever contributed more to the life of his country, or the world, than Muhammad Ali.

Muhammad Ali is a retired American boxer and as a professional, he became the only man to have won the linear heavyweight championship three times. They tried to humiliate him when they stripped him of his title. From being publically disgraced to being the recipient of America's highest civil award the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 is an incredible testimony.

You may have seen him on TV on Inauguration Day. He was walking very slowly with the aid of a walker. He was slouched over and it was obvious that he was concentrating hard on the process of moving forward. My heart went out to him – this man who has always refused to give up. He stood tall when they took away his belt and title, he stood tall when they tried to break his spirit and on this day, in my eyes, he was walking even taller.

He would always say, “I’m the Greatest!”
Yes, Muhammad Ali, indeed you are!


For a great treat copy and paste this website into your computer –For those who remember him when he was Cassius I dare you to try not to laugh!

1 comment:

Karima said...

I LOVE this man! As a teen-ager and an early 20-something, I was inspired by his pride, his skills, and his confidence. I was most inspired by his willingness to stand up and stand tall for his convictions. He is still one of my heroes...