me cry if I want to. I, like millions of others across the globe,
knew that Muhammad Ali was not long for this world. His diagnosis of
Parkinson’s disease evolved before our collective eyes over the
past 30 years, but the death of “The Greatest” hurts
nonetheless. If I had to choose one word to describe Ali, I couldn’t.
“Greatest” is more
apt, but alongside that for me, is courage.
a child, I recall my absolute amazement of Ali. I never knew him
when he was Cassius Clay. For that, I thank God. I came to the
consciousness of Ali in the era of ABC’s Wide World of Sports.
I remember the whole neighborhood buzzing about in the hours leading
up to air time. People making preparations and crowds gathered in
living rooms; everyone cheering for the expected…an Ali
as exciting as Ali was as a boxer, my deeper respect came when I
learned of his confrontational stand against the United States
government, and I later learned of his often understated stand
against the white, status quo establishment that became synonymous
with this country’s identity. Today,
I see Ali as an original “Black Lives Matter” activist.
is my deeply held belief that power lies in the spoken word.
Christians and Jews (and I think, Muslims) believe that God spoke the
world into existence; so if that’s the case, then words are
powerful. Ali had words! His vocabulary was beyond the environment
of his youth and above what was expected of anyone who chose to box
for a living. His words dazzled sports fans, instilled pride in
thousands of Black Americans and infuriated white America (though his
poetic fluency just plain old bedazzled some of them too).
words also scorched this country. Those words are the ones most
often remembered. His choice of kujichagulia or self-determination
tore the veil off of America. Ali’s words gave fuel to an
opposition in the United States that set the world on fire! He
burned this country’s traditionalists—you know: the ones
who thought no one dare speak ‘down’ to them. What I’ve
come to learn is that, in this country, white people don’t like
to be told that they are subverting the truth, and they turn a
blind’s eye when truths expose the contradictions in their
belief systems (BS). Ali spoke truth to the children of the
traditionalists aka, the white supremacists.
Bill Siegel describes Ali’s stand:
“He was called a “draft-dodger”; whether there even
is such a thing, Ali didn’t burn his draft card, nor did he
flee the country or get some kind of student deferment [like Donald
Trump]. He showed up right on time where his induction into the US
military was scheduled and refused to step forward. He said “No!
I will not go” right in the face of the powers that were
dictating his participation in what he understood as a heinous and
unjust war on humanity.”
hearing the well-documented speech Ali delivered to a crowd of young
college students in 1967, I knew that was the type of man I’d
aspire to be. He said:
ain't draft dodging. I ain't burning no flag. I ain't running to
Canada. I'm staying right here. You want to send me to jail? Fine,
you go right ahead. I've been in jail for 400 years. I could be there
for 4 or 5 more, but I ain't going no 10,000 miles to help murder and
kill other poor people. If I want to die, I'll die right here, right
now, fightin' you, if I want to die. You my enemy, not no Chinese, no
Vietcong, no Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my
opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality.
Want me to go somewhere and fight for you? You won't even stand up
for me right here in America, for my rights and my religious beliefs.
You won't even stand up for my right here at home.
kujichagulia to America’s white power structure was the most
impressive act I had witnessed up until that time. Ali’s
courage gave me the courage to say “I won’t go” in
the face of an all-powerful world government in 2008. I was tried
for crimes that shouldn’t even have been crimes. I was tried
for drug and gun trafficking—when I was not guilty…but I
was an activist in my adopted home of Knoxville.
government wrongly convicted me; my lawyer convinced me to plea
bargain, and the outcome: a sentence four times harsher. I heard Ali
in my mind’s eye; I felt courage throughout my being. I
appealed the sentence pro se…. and won.
in a re-trial, the government ambushed me with four new charges that
would have landed me a life sentence! I mustered even more courage to
declare to the Feds, “I won’t go.” And, I didn’t.
I was tried before a jury—of not
my peers—and I won.
a regular practice, I watch the Sunday morning political talk shows,
and on Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace reflected on Ali, remarking, “I
don’t know if he was The Greatest, but I do know that he was a
giant.” My gut response was, “F—k you, Chris
Wallace! Who are you to demote Muhammad Ali from his
self-determined—and duly earned moniker, “The Greatest?”
‘relabel’ Ali as “a giant,” Chris Wallace
reminds us of the continued battles we, as Black Americans,
constantly fight in this damned country: the right to
self-determination. White Americans in this country insist on
stripping us of our freedom to name ourselves.
Ali’s humor and gentle nature in the face of great racism, is
why the USA is a tad closer to being “a more perfect union.”
You might think Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is
racist (as I do), but he’s only a mouthpiece for the millions
of other white Americans who keep Muhammad Ali’s fight for
freedom, justice and equality alive. I hate that fact, but it’s
am here to share my thoughts with you today because of great men and
women like Muhammad Ali. Ali showed me what courage looks like. He
taught me to stand when others fall around me. He taught me to always
believe in myself, even when no one else seems to. He taught me to
keep alive a hope that evil men cannot
exploit, degrade or kill.
owe a debt to Ali—one that I can never repay. Muhammad Ali—the
man—The Greatest—lived his life with the greatest courage
for which I am thankful.