By: Maya J. Boddie
I have always been interested in my history. By my history, I mean African-American history. And more specifically, the influential, trail blazing, fearless individuals who visibly fought for freedom intrigue me the most.
Unfortunately, I had not taken the time to learn the extent to which Muhammed Ali contributed to this world, outside of boxing. This past week, in reference to Ali’s death, my dad has expressed his sincere apologies that he didn’t take the time to educate me on this exceptional man’s life.
After endlessly scrolling through my twitter feed, flipping through the pages of Washington Post’s Ali tribute, and binge watching CNN’s countless interview clips from the height of his career, I have learned so much, about him, and myself. How amazing could you have possibly been to have shifted a complete stranger’s outlook on life in one week, AFTER you die?
Since the world champion has been ill during my 22 years on this Earth, I know that, many of you (millennials), like myself, did not have the opportunity to witness “The Greatest” at his best.
I’ve compiled a short list of 7 lessons we can learn from him, in 2016.
- Do not limit yourself. This might sound slightly generic or cliched, yet it’s such a profound message. We know Muhammed Ali was THE greatest boxer of all time. But for him to EQUALLY be remembered as an activist, humanitarian, and fighter outside of the ring, is admirable. He didn’t make his millions then go home. He used his platform as a role model in the sports industry, to build a reputation as someone who spoke out about his beliefs, and was unafraid of all possible consequences.
- We are pretty. Maya, what do you mean? Well, during many of his interviews, Ali would confidently say “I’m pretty”. Each time I heard him utter those words, I would think to myself, “Hmm, Ali might be feeling himself a little too much.” But, after I really thought about what he was saying, I realized that he was sincerely honoring the beauty in his blackness. He was subliminally reminding his people to truly love themselves, and to recognize their God-given beauty, even if the world doesn’t. He grew up during a time when black was not classified as beautiful. In the United States, black was considered ugly, which of course could have done severe damage to the minds of the African-American people. Listen to Ali’s inquisitive outlook on ‘color’ here. This lesson is not just for my black sisters and brothers, but for all people. Be confident and sure that you are beautiful. Do not let anyone else’s opinion of YOU determine your love for YOU. You are pretty!
- Principle over Popularity. There were two extremely pivotal moments in Ali’s career, which proved to be true tests of his character: #1. When he threw his Olympic gold medal into the Ohio River, and #2. When he refused to fight in the Vietnam War. Upon his arrival back to the U.S. after becoming the heavyweight champion of the world, Ali and some friends decided to go out to eat in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. When Ali sat down to order, the waitress looked at him and said “we don’t serve negros.” Outraged that he was still denied rights by the same country who wanted him to fight in a war; the country which he had just represented in the Olympics, Ali felt the medal no longer had meaning. Then, when he refused to go to Vietnam for war, Ali was facing nearly 3.5 years in prison, at the height of his career. He was even exonerated by the Supreme Court for being a “resister”. He was stripped of his title and banned from fighting anywhere in the world. Did that change his mind? Hell no.
He lost millions of dollars due to his decision. How many NBA or NFL players do y’all know would sacrifice the ring they’ve been working towards their entire careers, by simply standing for something they believe is morally wrong? Jerry Brewer of the Washington Post wrote, “[Ali] didn’t use celebrity as an excuse to ignore his beliefs and in the way he simply cared about people.” He eventually gained his title back.
- We don’t have much time. Spend it wisely. When a little boy asked Ali what he planned to do upon retirement, he explained that he would spend his time preparing to meet God. At the time, he was 35-years-old, and estimated that within the next 30 years of his life, he would spend 16 of those years doing nothing, due to time sleeping, traveling, watching TV, etc.; which would leave him 14 years to be productive, before reaching 65. Acquiring that mindset would definitely increase our chances of being the productive citizens in society we were created to be.
- Selflessness. Fresh out of high school, on the brink of his 20s, Ali was invited to speak to the graduating class at Harvard University on June 4, 1975. In just one minute (all that is posted of the speech on YouTube), Ali, one of the most powerful forces in the world at the time, stood up on a pedestal–both literally and figuratively, and encouraged his audience to always be selfless. Social media is a major part of our lives today, and I personally believe that it continually causes us to become self-absorbed. We’re worrying about what we can do to have what one of our snapchat or Instagram followers has. If we spent the same amount of time we spend comparing our lives to others, as we did helping others, I’m sure the world would be better, and even happier.
- Know who you are. “Now that I’m free, now that I’m no longer a slave, then I want a name of my ancestors”– Cassius Clay; the name of a slave holder. Ali educated himself on his history, and learned that he carried the name of the caucasian slave holder who owned his family. Rightly so, he did not want to identify with someone who had anything to do with the enslavement of his ancestors. When Ali changed his name, he was simply freeing himself; freeing himself from anything that was connected to his brutal past. The moment Ali knew who he was, was when he became who he was supposed to be. He discovered his purpose, which enabled him to lead others to do the same.
- Speak your success into existence. “I am the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was. I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I was really the greatest.”–Muhammed Ali. Enough said.
Thank you, Muhammed Ali, for your unparalleled wisdom, unwavering faith, and unfailing love.
Rest in Power.