Message to the Community
I was once told that when fate takes over, it would seal the deal no matter what is or is not going on (it absolutely rules). Some have stated that it is so quick some likened it in time to a whole lifetime compared to wingspan of a small bird. I am referring to the day that Muhammad Ali had his bike stolen and as they say, “the rest is history.”
Not only would he become a three-time heavyweight champion, but also he would go down as the most recognized person on the planet. Imagine that, coming from one of the most unlikely places and the most unlikely beginnings to do we have the birth of Muhammad Ali to literally impact both negatively and positively nearly most the entire world’s population.
When I reflect on the influence Muhammad Ali had on my life, I am both saddened and elated. In fact, while writing this article my eyes teared up as I recall the life of this most powerful human being; a Black man that struggled and sacrificed so much for the rights and freedoms of all people and specifically the Black community in America.
I met him on several occasions and I can say that they represented some of the most memorable times of my life because he was a tremendous influence on my life as a child, young adult, and now as a fully-grown man. I can say that I truly loved Muhammad Ali because of his sincere commitment to our people and to our liberty. For these reasons, my tribute to Muhammad Ali is not to pay lip service, but to emulate the balance of my life on this earth to serve the Black community.
As we ponder the great life of Muhammad Ali, we must ask ourselves where and how he became who he was – what was his influence, what were his beliefs, what were his strategies and who were his teachers; and how did he achieve such confidence outside of the ring? While there are simple answers to these questions, one of the reasons they go unanswered is due to the perplexing cultural identity crises that Black people suffer from today. The answers all point to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad was vital to the rise of Ali and in moving the entire country to becoming better at its treatment of Black people.
Let’s be clear, there would be no Malcolm Shabazz (X), Minister Louis Farrakhan, Imam Warith Deen Muhammad, and countless local Black leaders around the country – in Philadelphia Jeremiah Shabazz – and, most importantly, THERE WOULD BE NO MUHAMMAD ALI WITHOUT THE HONORABLE ELIJAH MUHAMMAD. Later, I will elaborate more on the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the importance of The Nation of Islam on those great leaders and the influence that he had on myself. I would not be Rahim Islam but for the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
When we look at Muhammad Ali’s ascension to “bigger than rock star” status during the 1960s in context, we will see that his achievements occurred right at the height of the civil rights movement, a very volatile time in America. America was going through an amazing transition from a number of perspectives. America was on the verge of growing up. Immediately after achieving an upset victory over the then feared and invincible Sonny Liston to become the youngest heavyweight champion in history, Muhammad Ali shocked the world again by announcing his conversion to Islam; changed his name from Cassius Clay; declared his allegiance to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and became a member of the Nation of Islam.
This, coupled with Ali’s unbashful “loud” mouth, made White Americans very uneasy with who he was and what he represented. White America absolutely hated Muhammad Ali and many Black leaders defamed Ali as racist. Because the Nation of Islam vehemently opposed the civil rights movement and, out of all of the efforts to liberate Black people, his, by far, were seen as some of the most extreme (even more extreme than the Black Panther Party). Muhammad Ali was on truly on thin ice. Belief and courage can only be the attributes that I would use to describe Ali’s actions during this time.
To put it bluntly, Muhammad Ali was not well received by the white establishment and the so-called Black leaders were secretly hostile as well. However, when you saw his impact on the millions of Black people, it was just amazing and awesome and a love affair began. Everyone I knew had a connection to Ali. The love affair with Ali was further heightened by the hostile treatment he received from white America, specifically the stripping away of his heavyweight title and being banned from traveling outside of the country to earn a living. This was a retaliation after he declared his opposition to being drafted into the United States Army to go fight in a war that he termed as “unjust.” So much was at stake, but Muhammad Ali never blinked and we must come to understand the confidence that he had that made this even possible.
The United States of America versus Muhammad Ali; this was one of many of his greatest fights and ultimate victories. No matter where you fall on the proverbial question of who is the greatest fighter of all time, because it is so subjective, Muhammad Ali, if not number one, would definitely be in the top three of everyone’s list. For many that would be enough, but Ali was so much more than a prize fighter, athlete, and three-time heavyweight champion. Boxing just happened to be what paid him and was the platform for that allowed him to become a social activist and human leader for the entire world.
Though he self-proclaimed, “I am the Greatest”, when brought into question, Ali made it clear that it is God who truly was the Greatest. What he was really saying was that no matter what narrative and degrading and negative image white America held for Black people, we were greater. Ali was saying that the downtrodden Black man was the greatest; not because we put ourselves over everyone else, (this isn’t our nature). No, the message was meant to counter the negative and inferior perception that Black people live under within this country. The pride and boldness was the result of his Nation of Islam belief in “do for self” and the “Black man is God.”
In spite of his rhetorical statements, there was no leader more humble and respectful of all people than Ali. There has never been and will never be another like Muhammad Ali. We must clearly understand that he was both a product and an extension of the Black community ultimately becoming a “human” model for all of humanity. He put his commitment and courage on display; not only in one of the most violent sports, which he mastered, but also in his ability to speak truth to power (challenge American white Supremacy).
The struggling Black community which suffers from a massive identity crisis can and must claim Muhammad Ali as their own and his rise to true fame was because of his “mad” love for our people and the struggle that Black people have waged in America against a brutal and racist system of slavery, Jim Crowism, tens of thousands of Black lynchings, open and legal discrimination, and the historical and structural systems that inhibit the ability of Black people to achieve full citizenship in a country that we have given so much to.
Muhammad Ali is the modern day “David” in the Bible because he fought and prevailed no matter how big, how intimidating, how powerful, and how strong the challenge (Goliath). Ali stated, “If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it—then I can achieve it.” There are no real accolades or characteristics that truly embellish Muhammad Ali except that he was a mortal man with Godly qualities and he loved and believed in his own people and if we truly want to pay tribute to his memory, we, especially our leaders, must emulate him and make the sacrifices required to make the commitment to our people.
Muhammad Ali – You Are the Greatness, Rest in Peace