The Muhammad Ali Alumni
The Life & Legacy of Muhammad Ali aka Cassius Clay
My Tribute to Greatness
I’ve been a fan of Muhammad Ali since growing up as a child in the 70’s. As a young man of Nubian descent growing up in Atlanta back then, there were a lot of men to look up to as Heros and Muhammad Ali was that guy for me. Dude could fight and talk trash all while remaining profound and deeply grounded in his beliefs. He was well-spoken, educated, and confident and I was none of that. Instead, I was an ugly child being raised in a single parent household located in the ghetto afraid to speak up and always afraid of confrontation. Although I had smarts I wasn’t prolific and I was definitely no athlete. I used to get bullied and would hang with guys in my neighborhood way tougher than me. I knew I didn’t fit but would try whenever possible.
I left home to join the military in 1988 and really had a hard time adjusting. In basic training, I had a drill sergeant that would tease me about my lips, he’d call them “soup coolers”. I would come across copies of Sports Illustrated with images of Muhammad Ali on the cover. and thought dude was too cool. The libraries would contain books with photos and quotes and I’d use the drama from his life to settle my nerves of adjusting to the military.
By the time I was able to start watching his fights he had already retired and was attempting to remain relevant as a fighter-activist-civilian. I never once felt anger at Ali for refusing the join the military. As a soldier, I was probably one of few in my circle who felt the opposite. I learned early on that everyone wasn’t cut out to join, or even make it in, the military and felt no reason to judge them for it. It’s an individual choice much like deciding to go to college or get a job. Muhammad Ali was a black man who was persecuted for basically standing his ground against the requests of his counterparts to join the military many of whom, at that time, were Caucasian. I thought it odd that he’d get publically shamed while other capable able-bodied caucasian men weren’t subjected to the same public scrutiny. Aside from the drama that surrounded Dr. King & Malcolm X, I think this was my first personal experience with racism. I drew inspiration from the way Ali handled it and the manner in which he articulated his frustrations. Regardless of what was done to try and break him, he learned how to persevere and managed to gain fame in spite of it. The man was relentless, unwavering, and unapologetic, something I felt was missing from other black men and it gave me strength. I personally attribute the efforts of Muhammad Ali and the teachings of the military for bringing me out of my shell and learning how to grow into being a man. Ali gave me the courage to develop my voice enabling me to speak freely against that which went against my beliefs. For that, I present this tribute to his Greatness!