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Est. April 5, 2002
June 09, 2016 - Issue 657

The Greatest
Why Muhammad Ali’s Courage
as a
Black Lives Matter Original


"Muhammad 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 a reality!"

Let 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

than apt, but alongside that for me, is courage.

As 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 knockout.

But 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.

It 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).

His 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.

Columnist 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.”

After 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:

I 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.

Speaking 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.

The 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.

Then, 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.

As 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?”

To ‘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.

Muhammad 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 a reality!

I 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.

I 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. Columnist, Perry Redd, longtime activist & organizer, is the Executive Director of the workers rights advocacy, Sincere
that currently owns the FCC license for WOOK-LP 103.1FM/ His latest book,
Perry NoName: A Journal From A Federal Prison-book 1, chronicles his ‘behind bars’ activism that extricated him from a 42-year sentence and is now case law. He is also the author of As A Condition of Your Freedom: A Guide to Self-Redemption From Societal Oppression, Mr. Redd also hosts a radio show, Socially Speaking, from his Washington, DC studio. Contact Mr. Redd and BC.




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Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble

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