A five-year-old African-American boy stood beside his mother crying in a five and dime store in Louisville, Kentucky. He was thirsty and wanted a glass of water and was refused because the store was segregated in 1947. That boy was Muhammed Ali. He knew then he had to fight for everything he achieved, and later found that the boxing ring provided an arena where he would be successful.
I hate boxing and wish that it would be banned. However, for Muhammed Ali (aka Cassius Clay), this sport provided an opportunity for success, money, and movement beyond racial barriers. His fame grew with every successful fight, but in 1967 he would have the fight of his life when he registered as a conscientious objector and refused to enlist in the army and fight in Vietnam. He paid a price for many years for his principled decision. He was banned from boxing for three years until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor. He was stripped of his championship title by the World Boxing Association and was forced to give up his passport. In cities around the country he was ridiculed and threatened.
Muhammed Ali’s gift to the country was authenticity. Nothing held him back from speaking truth to power on war, racism or abuse of power. As a devout Muslim, his words came from his moral core, without a filter. He did not ask “Will I be misunderstood, go to jail, lose the opportunity to fight again, lose the money I need for my future.” He simply followed core values. His values were “eulogy values,” not “resumé values.”
He never wavered from his core values. Speaking to a college audience he said: “I would like to say to those of you who think I’ve lost so much, I have gained everything. I have peace of heart. I have a free conscience. I wake up happy and go to bed happy. And, if I go to jail, I go to jail happy.”
Although some were put off by the bragging, calling himself, “the Greatest,” he knew greatness happened outside the ring, and showed that when being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1984. He said, “Parkinson’s is my toughest fight… I’m being tested to see if I’ll keep praying, to see if I’ll keep my faith.”
Thousands of people will travel to Louisville on Friday to celebrate his life as a model of authenticity.
When asked how he wanted people to remember him, he replied:
“He took a few cups of love.
He took one tablespoon of patience.
A tablespoon of generosity.
One pint of kindness.
One quart of laughter.
One pint of concern.
He added lots of faith.
And stirred it up well.
Then he spread it over a lifetime.”
Rest in peace, Muhammed.