With the recent passing of Muhammad Ali, many throughout the world are sharing their thoughts about what he meant to them. Some are looking at him strictly as an athlete who fought an epic battle with Parkinson’s disease. Some are also trying to paint him, incorrectly I believe, as post-racial. I have a few thoughts about what he meant to me which I’m going to share.
Muhammad Ali was my first childhood hero. The Ali action figure was the first that I remember playing with as a boy. Ali personified strength to me, black strength, black masculinity.
Ali showed me how to be courageous, not just at bucking American society informed by white supremacy but how to admit being wrong about beliefs then changing course more than once.
Ali sought to bring people together under common truths. Ali was unapologetic about being Muslim while working with leaders of other faiths including meeting with the Pope. Ali left the Nation of Islam to embrace Sunni Islam while later meeting with Shi’ah leaders, praying with them as equal brothers and sisters and making visitation to the shrines of Imam al-Husayn in Karbala, Iraq and Imam Ali ar-Rida in Mashhad, Iran.
Ali showed me how to have local concerns yet be global in outlook. Ali was Louisville and Saigon, Miami and Makkah, Harlem and Accra, and Detroit and Cairo. Ali was with Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr, and at the grave of Omar Mukhtar.
Ali was my hero. No, Ali still is my hero. He is what I wanted to be as a young boy not totally feeling accepted in America. He is the Muslim who carried his faith proudly in America that I strive to be.
I cannot foresee anyone filling the shoes of Muhammad Ali…Ali…Ali..Ali!