‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Rumble, young man, rumble.”
Being born in 1957 made me a tweener. I have memories of the JFK assassination; I was a six-year-old walking the street with a very small transistor radio. The only sound from the radio was the consistent sounds of the drum that were a part of the procession. I did not know of his greatness until many years later.
Although we were in the midst of the flower child and free love era, I was too young to experience that. We were a generation lost in the space race, post Baby Boomer, in between everything with little to identify with. Before I really began to listen to music the Beatles were breaking up. The Vietnam War was at its height, but began before I had really known what war was. We had little to relate to and even less people to look up to.
Along came this tremendous athlete, outspoken, intelligent and brash. The world had never seen anything like him before. Hello champ.
He talked big and backed it up. In the ring and out; he took on the world. He was the first person I knew of that said it was OK to proclaim you were great and then go out and do it! He made predictions and then made them come true.
More importantly, he showed that you could survive by standing up for what you believe in. He showed that your beliefs are the most important thing you have and to risk anything to protect them. By doing so he proved that you can be knocked down, in sports and in life, and get back up. In fact, it was your decision and your right to do so. You were supposed to.
He went from beloved Olympian to hated Muslim to beloved champion to hated draft dodger to beloved champion. Throughout he stuck to what he believed in, weathered the establishment’s storm and came out stronger. All the while he was a humanitarian, an activist, devout in his religion (even while those who were supposed to be his friends, teachers and mentors tried to take advantage of him).
Here was a man who only wanted to be equal, nothing more – nothing less. He was the champion of the world, yet he felt he was being treated as an inferior to the majority. Champion of the world, but he felt inferior. I can’t even imagine what it is like to feel that way. Jesus, this great man treated as an inferior.
I grew up poor, but not discriminated against. I didn’t even know I was poor. My dad was a good man. He never let me know I was poor and he taught me the things I passed on to my kids – music, reading, and a respect for the past.
Funny thing is, he didn’t particularly care for Muhammed Ali. He thought he was a loudmouth. He didn’t like the braggadocio. But, he respected Muhammed Ali-as a person and activist. He never stooped to the racist statements the majority of the white males in his age range were making (Even when it was the chique thing to do when he refused to be inducted into the war). He taught me that the color of someones’ skin did not affect the worth of that person to the world.
I met Muhammed Ali twice, pre and post Parkinsons. I don’t know that I have ever met anyone who has made ME feel so special, so worthy. He looked me in my eyes and he held look of love, of wonder. I swear he made me feel like no one else ever has. He was truly interested in only me and what I had to say. He made me feel like I was the celebrity. I only hope that one day I can make ONE PERSON feel the way that he made me feel.
Muhammed Ali taught me so many things more that I can put in this short tribute. In a time with so few heroes and so much confusion, there was Ali. Champion, activist, humanitarian, philanthropist.
I said previously, all he wanted was to be our equal, nothing more – nothing less. Sorry, champ you aren’t my equal. You aren’t anybody’s equal. You are simply – the greatest.
Allah is beaming with you by his side.