Everyone knows the name…especially after this week, with his death.
I knew he was a great boxer. I knew he was a solid athlete and that he had brought the gold to USA in the Olympics once. I don’t know the year. I didn’t even know he was from, let along had been living, in Louisville, KY until a couple days ago….and I got invited to go to the memorial after his burial.
I learned a lot yesterday. About the brilliant athlete who came home wearing the Olympic gold, walked into a restaurant, and was still denied service on the color of his skin. A man who was pushing so hard to create an identity that his fellow Americans, no matter the color of skin, would recognize as “somebody” and having “worth“. I learned about the Olympic champion who left that restaurant, without his cheeseburger and coke, and threw his gold medal into the river. His name was known everywhere. He was the greatest. And yet, he was still being judged as “lesser” because of his skin.
Anyone would be frustrated in that.
Hell, I found common ground in that story.
I worked and proved myself to be very good at what I was working in…. I was repeatedly recognized, by outside groups and individuals, for the things I achieved . Repeatedly touted as “great” at what I was doing. Only to be treated as “incapable” and “weak” by my own workplace for no other reason than my gender. Now, I’m not saying I know the struggle of the Blacks, or the Jews, or anyone else our Country gets up it’s ass to treat like shit at any given time. I don’t. That’s a different level of struggle.
But I do know what it is to show up, do the work, excel or be “great” at what I’m doing – bringing honor to a place, and then return to that place only to have them remind you that “you ain’t shit”. I understand that struggle all too well.
Ali’s struggle went to a bigger scale. He stood against the segregation. He stood against the maltreatment and violence among religions. He stood against a war he didn’t believe in and that his religion forbade him from. (“No ‘Cong ever called me a Nigger, I don’t have any fight against them”). He called for America to fix the problems at home first…to find peace. He made a number of friends, spanning all over the faiths, all over the races…all over the world.
Ali wasn’t about just the struggle of the Blacks. He was about everyone’s struggle.
“The People’s Champ” … Such a fitting title, for such an amazing person.
And then I learned about Mohammad Ali, the person beyond the athlete.
I learned that he was such an inspiration to this City, that even the “ordinary”…meaning not famous… people felt comfortable around him. He was always gratuitous with his time, and his fame, and especially with his love and encouragement. He inspired the African American race, yes. There’s no doubt about that. Dr Kevin Cosby, a speaker at the memorial, pointed out that Ali gave the Black People a sense of “somebodyness”. A sense of worth. And it’s true. He showed a down-trodden and abused class of people that they were still people. And that they deserved rights as well. But it wasn’t just Blacks that found Ali’s inspiration in life. All races were inspired by the man. He showed the inner city youth that they could get somewhere in life if they worked at it. He showed all of us that great things could be achieved through peace. Through communication and working together…. never through violence and oppression.
Ali the person made connections and brought people together. He wanted everyone to find goodness, give goodness, and grow the world in peace and cooperation. He had athlete friends. He had politician friends. He had friends that spanned the cultures, the world, and the religions. This was so very apparent at the memorial.
The memorial was beautiful. As was the funeral procession.
Ali’s daughter posted on social media about the outpouring of love the family saw from the City, as so many people lined the streets and chanted “Ali! Ali! Ali!” or threw flowers on the cars.
“My Dad finally got to experience his dream.” She wrote, continuing, “He had a reoccurring dream he would tell us about. He dreamed that he was running down Broadway in Louisville, and that all the people lined the road and cheered for him, and he would run, taking off in flight as the road stretched on. Thank you all.“
The image that sticks out to me so vividly from watching the funeral procession was the little kids who jogged along behind the hearse, shadow boxing.
It was so beautiful, the inspiration and the love that the City felt from Ali…and to see that heaped back toward the family in this time of loss was more than inspiring. It was beautiful. It gave hope. Hope that Ali’s dreams for a more unified and peaceful world could be found. That injustices would someday come to an end. That America would become, as one speaker at the funeral said: “A world leader, not through the already tried and failed tactics of domination and weapons, but through becoming a safe place; A country that welcomes people and allows them the freedoms already promised. Lead the world through peace, rather than war.” (Paraphrased)
The memorial service consisted of a collection of religious leaders, famous individuals, and the Ali family coming together to share the heart of Ali’s dreams: That we all recognize that it doesn’t matter what color our skin is, what religion we pray through, what name we call God, or how much money we have. We are all together, and we should be together as we work toward a great future.
I want to share some statements from the speakers that really stuck with me… Some spoke to me because my struggle finally came to a resolution and I felt that the sentiments matched my life on a level, some struck me because of what is important to my life and character, and some struck me because of the beauty and power they evoked as the life of this great person was shared with all of us.
One of the most powerful speakers was Dr. Kevin Cosby (Who sparked the MC to comment, “Never give a teenager a phone, and never give a preacher a microphone” jokingly, when he retook the podium).
Dr Cosby, like almost all of the speakers, was passionate when he spoke about Ali the person, and about the dreams Ali had for the world. But what struck me was his point when he said:
“Louisville is known for two things, mainly: Muhammad Ali and the Derby. … We want you to come back, the first weekend in May, and we want you to visit us for the Derby. We want you to bet on the horses. But you have to know the rules… you have to know how a race works. First, the horses are lined up in the pens at the start. Everyone is in, and the horn sounds, and the race begins. The horses run in a circle for two minutes. Two minutes! For Two minutes, they run in the mud. They run in the mud and one will win. And the winner is taken over to the winner’s circle, where a wreath is put around their neck.
You have to know the rules to bet on a horse race. The rules are this: You cannot bet on the horse after he is in the winner circle. You have to bet on the horse while he is still in the mud.”
That last sentiment…just that… That was powerful to me.
Among the religions and people present were the representatives of the Native American Nations: Owen Lyons, Sidney Hill & Ernie Stevens, Chiefs, each one of them. Sidney Hill said, “Values and principles will determine a person’s destiny. And the same is true of nations.”
He shared a story about how in the 90s, a Washington State Senator proposed a bill that would nullify all the agreements and treaties signed by the US Government with the Native American Nations. And when that happened, Native Peoples walked from the west to DC…and Ali walked with them.
Ali was the type of person who stood with anyone who was oppressed.
He also stood with his friends when they were honored.
Billy Crystal shared a story about how Ali, this famous Muslim, went to see his friend (“little brother”) Crystal being honored as a Jew by the Jewish Community. He talked about how Ali going to that event helped Crystal raise enough funds that he could start a program at the Jewish University that promoted peace among traditionally violent religious through the arts. Crystal noted that Ali had a great sense of humor. Important, I felt, given that he had to face so much adversity to get to where he could make differences and inspire people.
Crystal then described Ali as a lightning bolt. Beautiful and powerful. And in the moment it strikes it lights up everything. Ali, according to Crystal, struck America in a dark time, and was able to illuminate the wrongs at the time…the discrimination, the hatred, the pride. And by his beauty in how he struck, he was able to inspire us to do better.
Ali’s widow, Lonnie, spoke. She spoke that Ali wanted more than anything, peace. She said that yes, there were bad cops (And that’s so true), but she said this,
“America must never forget that when a cop and an inner city kid Talk, miracles happen.”
And I loved this sentiment. It spoke to how a white cop stopped an upset kid on the street, sat down and spoke with him, and encouraged the kid (who’s bike was stolen) not to seek revenge, but rather to join the cop at a gym…where the kid learned boxing… Where that poor inner city kid started on a path to make such a huge difference in the world. Sociology / Criminology will show any of its students that the police are the “gate keepers”, and that how they handle a young person in a difficult situation in the ghetto can make or break an amazing future for that kid.
With regard to the police and segregation and brutality… the message was clear that, yes it does happen (Again. YES! It is still rampant), but that there are still good people wearing those uniforms who want to help make the change (YES! Very true). All the speakers made it clear that everyone needed to remember that when it came to Muslims, Christians, Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, or Police – there will be bad people, but a few bad people do not spoil all of the people.
Lonnie Ali also said, “It is far more difficult to give up one self in the pursuit of peace, than it is to take up arms in violence.” She said this, remarking upon how despite all the bitterness that Ali could have taken on through the hardships – through being stripped of his titles and imprisoned because he disagreed with a war in a different country when there was a war on race happening hourly on the streets of America. Despite all that, he held on to peace and worked through the difficulty to earn his place back.
“He disagreed with the government, but he didn’t fight it and he didn’t run from it.”
Then a young woman took the podium. Not a relation of the family, not a famous movie star or politician. This girl, I suspect, won the opportunity to share what the legacy of Ali brought to her life, and how learning his story and struggles helped her to feel proud in her skin and how it inspired her to move beyond “the rocks thrown” by her haters and detractors. Natasha Mundkur said in her speech, “Impossible is not a fact. Impossible is an opinion. Impossible is nothing.” Then, “Impossible is not enough to knock us down. We. Are. Ali.”
I think it’s important to note a very big similarity here, between young Mundkur and our current POTUS, Barak Obama, who wrote in his statement (delivered on his behalf by a woman associated with the Ali family) about how watching Ali in the ring and in society, fight for the win and achieve all that he did, “inspired a young mixed-race boy to believe that even he could become President of the United States of America some day.”
John Ramsey (I think someone told me that he’s a local sports announcer) told a story about how he was announcing a fight and Ali was there. Ali was taken to meet the winner of the fight, and after that turned to Ramsey and said, “I wanna see the looser.” The idea was foreign to everyone. Ramsey led Ali to the other locker room, where, sitting alone in the corner on a stool looking all the world like the lowest point on Earth was the kid that lost. There was no crowd. There was no one else there but him. And he wore this expression that just “showed that he felt like he had let his people down, his country, and his dreams.” The minute Ali entered that room, the kid lit up. Ali joked a little with the kid, threw a couple easy punches, and then put his arm around the kid’s shoulders and said, “I watched you out there. You looked good. You’ve got the moves. Don’t give up. You could be a champ!”
Ramsey said that, “in seconds, Ali took this kid from down here” (He indicated the low) “to here.” (raised his hand). Ali knew how to inspire. He was inspiration. He also knew how to make people feel good about themselves.
Bill Clinton related some stories about how Ali just had the knowledge, “you don’t learn this from a book” – the “how” in knowing when someone is down and needs some encouragement. Ali knew it. Clinton said, “In the second half of his life, he perfected gifts we all have… We all have gifts of mind and soul.” Clinton said that to honor Ali, we should all “give our gifts” and live how Ali lived.
Want to see who all the speakers were and some of the other statements made? Maybe watch some of the videos and hear the full speeches? Go HERE to read the LA Times feed.
We all know that Ali was an amazing boxer…athlete… And after what I witnessed all over Louisville, KY yesterday… Ali sounds like an amazing person. And I wish I had known his story before all of this. I wish I had had the chance to be introduced to his philosophies and his humor earlier in my life. I was going through a hard time where having known this story and this struggle would’ve helped me keep things in perspective better…would’ve inspired me to handle some things better, and let me know that I was doing it right: how I stood my ground for my morals and my ethics.
We really lost something, someone, special. I can only hope that Louisville, and the Ali family, continue to work together to strive and push Ali’s goals for the world.
We all need so much more kindness. So much more greatness. So much more peace.
“Ali knew that you achieved greatness only by building bridges… NOT by building walls.” – Billy Crystal.
– I Am Ali.