This Black History Month I’m Grateful for Muhammad Ali
“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will
accomplish nothing in life.”
I want to spend today’s blog post reflecting on a man who
transcended virtually all the expectations of his life. While a young boxing
champion, the man born Cassius Clay made the first high profile conversion to
Islam. After being brought into the Nation of Islam by Malcolm X*, the newly
christened Muhammad Ali was immediately condemned as an un-American radical. Most
in the mainstream media refused to use his chosen name for years.
to enter the Vietnam War, Ali became the most celebrated American to refuse
induction. Ali famously declared that he had no quarrel with the Vietcong.
Although Ali was offered the possibility of spending his military service as a
traveling entertainer, he continued to refuse to participate and risked jail
time for his stance. Although he was not imprisoned, he was stripped of his
championship and not allowed to work as a boxer.
For many years, Ali’s name was associated with Jane Fonda’s
as Vietnam era traitors. It took much longer for Ali’s stance to be recognized
for the act of willing sacrifice that it truly was. Ali eventually was allowed
to return to boxing where he became the first three time heavyweight champion.
More importantly, Ali used his fame and celebrity to support a wide variety of
social causes. As the most famous Muslim in the world, Ali had an extraordinary
following and level of credibility globally. Ali has been honored with the
Presidential Medal of Freedom and in the 1996 Summer Olympics, his lighting of
the Olympic Torch became one of the iconic images of the decade.
Ali’s work as an advocate for peace was generally
understated but recently, ESPN produced a documentary
detailing Ali’s role in freeing American hostages held in Iraq before the
Persian Gulf War. At this stage in his life, Ali’s physical impairments had
already manifested and he risked his health in a profound way on this trip. As
one of the most famous people in the world, Muhammad Ali could have chosen to
bask in luxury and adulation. Instead, he’s continually worked to promote peace
and justice. He’s become an icon worthy
of the label.
Today I am grateful for Muhammad Ali. You should be too.
*- check back Thursday
Here's a poem I wrote for Ali:
King of all the world
From sinner to savior to saint
And shrill to sagacious to silent
Always beautifully, willfully,
© Gayle Force