This afternoon as I sat down for a break after returning from my real job and before beginning my dream job as a writer, I stumbled across the televised broadcast of Muhammad Ali’s memorial service. Soon, my plan to relax for a few minutes before turning my attention to my latest writing project was derailed.
I couldn’t turn away. I was mesmerized by one inspiring speaker after another. Speakers like young Natasha Mundkur who passionately spoke about how Ali changed her life. Remember that name.
I, of course, knew about Muhammed Ali. I knew he was a boxer. I knew he was born Cassius Clay. I knew he had a penchant for speaking in rhyme. I knew he was kind and I knew he had a good sense of humor. If only I had known how so much more he was.
If you missed the service, search your social media sites. If you value social justice, you will not be disappointed. In fact, if you are human, you will not be disappointed.
Tributes and memories of this former athlete revealed a life not only well lived but almost carefully crafted to culminate at this moment at this time. His insistence on a Muslim funeral at a time when many Americans fear Muslims was masterful. In this final act, he demonstrated peace, love, and unity at its best. Speakers and religious leaders representing a variety of ethnicities and religions were united in their respect and admiration for this peaceful man. Each speaker shared their first-hand accounts of the generosity of this man known as The Greatest.
His elegant, articulate widow, Lonnie, shared the story of this African-American future boxer, born in segregated Louisville Kentucky who encountered a white police officer at a young age. This encounter was not the hostile, violent encounter we hear about all too often in recent times. Young Casius Clay’s encounter with the white police officer ended in a spectacularly different way. This white officer listened to the angry twelve-year-old who wanted to beat up the thief who stole his bike. The officer listened to the youth and then introduced him to the sport of boxing. Lonnie Ali said, “When a cop and an inner city kid talk, miracles can happen.”
This celebration of a unique and inspiring life provided so many lessons for those who were lucky enough to catch it; lessons in loving each other, being kind to each other, and believing in ourselves. Casius Clay, who chose his name, Muhammed Ali after his conversion to Islam, lived his life on his own terms. As an athlete, he inspired kids of all ages, other boxers, aspiring journalists, and at least one future president. As a man he challenged mainstream Americans by expanding our views on religion, war, and poverty here and abroad. In life and in death Ali had much to say and he said it well. Rest in peace.