“He is giving up on fame… He is giving up on millions of dollars in order to stand up for what his conscience tells him is right… There is a very dangerous development in the nation now to equate dissent with disloyalty.” – Death of a King by Tavis Smiley with David Ritz
I didn’t grow up in a house where my parents viewed a regulated fight between men as an honourable test of mortality, substantiated only by the contenders adopted strain of humanity. Therefore, with neither of my parents being boxing fans, there were never any pay-per-view invoices stacked on the table, no sounds of bells every few minutes travelling down the hallway of our home and leaking into my bedroom to announce the end of another round. Not even a taped cassette, commentary from a celebrated night in Zaire or the Philippines. However, though Ali retired before I was born, it is but an impossible feat to escape references to the giant; his name embedded on the tongue of every hopeful, replicating his motion and reimagining themselves in his place, earning his glory. Ali bomaye! Ali bomaye!
The quote aforementioned allegedly recites Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s support and admiration for Muhammad Ali’s controversial refusal to fight in the Vietnam war. I remember as a child that this historical event was one of the first encounters I’d ever had with the work of the man said to be The Greatest of All Time. So irrespective of how ignorant I was of his boxing career, this man, this Muhammad Ali still managed to find a seat at our table. It was through his contribution to the Civil Rights Movement that he found a way to pervade our hearts. Reports of his strength outside of the ring, where his power though seemingly incalculable, surely laboured to match the strength of his convictions. The man he chose to be, undeterred by the villain people sought to make him in his anti-war stance, revealed in such measure the worth of his heart.
A civil rights leader. An asset to the black community. A champion in his right. May the God you know welcome you home and may the hearts that break at your passing, find comfort in the light of your story.
What a life you have lived.
What a man we have loved.