As is the case with many people, I too have a Muhammad Ali story. Perhaps, it would be more accurate to state that I have several Muhammad Ali stories. I could tell you about the overwhelming number of times my father lectured me about the greatness of Muhammad Ali. A greatness that for my dad extended well beyond the boxing ring.
While most of my peers were celebrating Muhammad Ali’s boxing acumen and the long line of boxers who attempted to mimic his style and flair, my father applied Muhammad Ali’s political and social convictions to the lessons he wanted me to learn. To my father, Muhammad Ali was a living example of what it meant to be a man – a real man. For my father, Muhammad Ali represented the type of man he believed I should strive to become.
WHEN WE WERE BLACK
According to my father, the Black community as it was known when I was a child, would have progressed by leaps and bounds, if more Black men were like Muhammad Ali. I must admit that initially my desire whenever my father began waxing poetically about Muhammad Ali was to try to tune him out. I know the aforementioned statement might come as a bit of a surprise for those who know me personally but I actually behaved just like any ordinary child. And no different than other children tend to do, I tried to tune my father out as well.
But there was no tuning my father out when it came to telling me about those people whom he respected. And my father revered the great Muhammad Ali. So rather than being permitted to do what every other child in the neighborhood was doing – being left alone to wear their Muhammad Ali Everlast boxing gloves while attempting to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee – I was learning about the Muhammad Ali who refused to shuffle for anyone including the U.S. Government.
FATHER KNOWS BEST
In hindsight, I am exceedingly grateful that my father was committed to lecturing me about the greatness of Muhammad Ali. And although I never had the good fortune of meeting Muhammad Ali, I was undeniably blessed to know Muhammad Ali because of my father’s reverence for him.
I learned so many wonderful things about myself from Muhammad Ali. For starters, I learned what it meant to be unswervingly dedicated to standing up for social justice regardless of the cost. I also learned that a man must always value societal good over personal fame and fortune. The aforementioned items are but two of the immeasurable qualities that my father wanted me to know about Muhammad Ali and subsequently, incorporate into my life.
PASS IT DOWN
I’m not sure if it was my father’s intention but I also learned a number of things from Muhammad Ali that I believed needed to be passed down to my son. The list of the things that I’ve passed down to my son is extensive.
So, in an effort to give my own brief tribute to the Greatest, I thought I might take a few minutes to share with you the four things (like the four corners of the ring) that I believe every parent should know about Muhammad Ali and share with their children.
Muhammad Ali’s flaws are well chronicled. Yet, it is those flaws that have reminded me time and again that being flawed is not a justification to stop striving to improve who we are and the world we live in. In fact, the opposite is true when it comes to being flawed.
From Muhammad Ali, I learned and now share with my son that being flawed is part of the human condition. Being flawed does not excuse us from the responsibility to do something good, to improve the life of others.
Flaws notwithstanding, we owe the world our best effort which means doing at least ten-thousand times the good that the injury one of our flaws might cause.
From 1967 through 1971, Ali fought the fight of all fights. He refused to cower to the might of the U.S. Army. He sacrificed his personal wealth and the potential he had to accumulate a king sized fortune – something 99.9% of today’s athletes and entertainers would never do. He also denied his critics and naysayers the opportunity to use him as a tool to get other Americans to participate in and support an unjust war.
Broke but never poor in spirit, bloodied but unbowed, constantly disrespected but never defeated…Muhammad Ali personified what it meant to be resolute. Thanks to Muhammad Ali, I am able to continuously express to my son that “when your fight is right, under no circumstances should you ever relent!”
Before Muhammad Ali was considered the greatest, he had long since proclaimed to the world that he was the greatest. “I must be the greatest” he loquaciously exclaimed after beating Sonny Liston in 1964.
Muhammad Ali’s 1964 brash proclamation was years in the making. The Champ had decided long before the Sonny Liston fight that he would become the greatest fighter that ever lived.
His process for greatness was simple. First, you must know where you want to go, know who you want to be, and be both unapologetic and unafraid to tell anyone who will listen what you already believe to be true. Then you must dedicate your life to believing in the impossible, never losing sight of your mission, embracing every step of the journey, and refusing to be outworked by anyone.
Whenever Naeem or I need a reminder to stay the course – when shrinking under life’s daily pressure or the weight of those who routinely try to discourage seems the obvious and natural reaction – Muhammad Ali serves as our most beautiful example of remaining audaciously convicted. Because of Muhammad Ali’s boldness, we maintain a growth mindset and attack each day and every problem like Muhammad Ali did with a backward design approach.
Something Bigger Than You
How does a person go from being criticized to celebrated? How does a person go from being persecuted to being protected? Simple! We follow Muhammad Ali’s path. Muhammad Ali illustrates what it means to not only understand but what it means to elect to live a life for something far bigger than ourselves.
He championed social justice for African Americans when most of us were too afraid to stand up and fight for ourselves. He fought against Parkinson disease with the same relentless spirit that he used to fight for the equality of all humanity. Muhammad Ali might have lost his last boxing match in 1981 but he never lost his title as the Champ.
Time and again, Muhammad Ali pushed his personal interest aside for the collective good. Muhammad shook up the world by living for something bigger than himself. This is why Muhammad Ail and Muhammad Ali alone will always be the greatest of all time.
THANK YOU, MUHAMMAD ALI
As I mentioned previously, the number of things I learned from Muhammad Ali and have attempted to share with my son are too lengthy to list them all. Suffice it to say I believe that all the lessons are invaluable for both parents and children.
In celebration of the Greatest, I would like to ask two things of you. First, I’d ask that you do yourself and your children a favor. If you haven’t done so already, please take some time to get to know Muhammad Ali. And if you think you know him, I’d ask that you consider getting to know him even better.
Finally, I’d ask you to make sure that you surround your child with a team like Ali had when he was in and out of the ring. Most of all, I’d ask that you to make sure that when that team is composed you serve your child in the unforgettable role of Bundini Brown.
Every child should know the real Muhammad Ali. Every child deserves a team and an inspirational mouthpiece like Muhammad Ali had so that they might have the opportunity to “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee…”
Does your child have a team that can lead them to greatness? Are you teaching your child to serve something bigger than themselves? Do your children know you as their Bundini Brown? Will we ever say this about you or your children, “they shook up the world”?