By Risasi Dais
In 2016, the world lost Muhammad Ali, as he lost his fight from years of battling Parkinson disease.
Muhammad Ali was the incomparable former three-time world heavyweight boxing champion. However, Ali was more than just a colorful fascinating boxing champion; he transcended the world of boxing and subsequently converted his religious faith to Islam as a member of the Nation of Islam, led by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, wherein he was befriended by Malclolm X.
Immediately upon joining the Nation of Islam, Ali dropped his former name of Classius Clay, that he described as his “slave name”, and was given the name Muhammad Ali.
Being endeared to the teaching of Islam and constantly acquiring much profound knowledge of Islam from Malcolm X, in 1967, Ali refused to be inducted into the Army. Ali said that he refused to travel thousands of miles to a foreign country to kill people of color because “No Vietcong ever called me a Nigger”.
In his prime, Ali was stripped of his title and deprived of an opportunity to make millions of dollars for four years because he refused to violate tenets of his religious beliefs.
While being disbarred from boxing, Ali participated in many protest marches and demonstrations. Thousands assembled around the Washington Monument in July 1967 for an anti-war demonstration and praised Ali’s courageous religious conviction for refusing to go to war. In June 1967, Ali spoke in Los Angeles at an anti-war rally of over 10,000 protesters saying, “Anything designed for peace to stop the killing of people, I’m for it 1,000 percent”. For years, Ali continued speaking out against the war on many college campuses.
Ali’s defiance against the Vietnam war would inspire other athletes such as Tommy Smith and John Carlos to raise their fists in a Black Power protest salute during the 1968 Olympics.
Almost 50 years later following Ali’s refusal to be inducted into the Army, last year Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, began his refusal to stand while the “National Anthem” was being played prior to the game. In response, many mostly white football fans became enraged and said that he was being unpatriotic. Yet, to many progressive people and activists across the nation, Kaepernick was being hailed as an activist hero. Consequently, other NBA athletes and females players of the WNBA, were inspired to display various protests during the playing of the National Anthem prior to their games.
In 1980, this writer spent three days at Ali’s training camp in Pennsylvania interviewing and photographing him for a New York magazine. Ali was asked of his admiration of Jack Johnson. In 1908, Johnson became the nation’s first African American heavyweight boxing champion. In response, Ali said, “I always really admired Jack Johnson as a great fighter in the ring and out of the ring. And although I know that I am pretty and is The Greatest of All Time as I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee in destroying many of my opponents, however, I never possessed the courage of Jack Johnson. He viciously knocked out all of his white fighters, then openly dated and married white women during the time when Black men were constantly being lynched and he did this alone when it was illegal without the support of the Nation of Islam F.O.I. as I have. So this was a “Baddd Brother!”
Presently, in the unpredictable and dangerous era of Donald Trump as the President-elect of the United States, more athletes should seriously study Muhammad Ali and Paul Robeson as revolutionary activists. Robeson, like Ali was stripped of his passport and denied to travel and work internationally as he often spoke out against racist practices of discrimination against oppressed people worldwide.
It was Ali who inspired many athletes and activists of the Black Power Movement and inspired many athletes today such as LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony to protest police brutality and killings of Black people, and as the Black Lives Matters movement has rapidly spread nationwide.
As Black people we soon will no longer have President Barack Obama in the White House, however, like Muhammad Ali, we can view and study their lives, keenly listen to their powerful speeches, view their videos and then organize our communities to become the best of ourselves. So, “Yes We Can” and We must do this to move and progress forward in the future.