Muhammad Ali was a modern day hero of our time. Inasmuch the word hero has been bastardized; its true meaning resided with those that achieved uncommon things and Ali was of an exceptional personality. He was courageous, charismatic and compassionate. His life history has become an assignment to those that want to emulate and examine a life worth living.
Ali was the greatest boxer ever lived but he was also a man that made his greatest impact on humanity. If left for me, I will say that boxing is not Ali’s greatest passion, his love for his fellow human being and enduring cherish for friendship were his most powerful symbols of his greatness.
Ali emerged on the scene during the era of African American civil right movement and Vietnam War’s quagmire. At this point in time there was turbulent in American polity as Black Americans were agitating to assert their full citizenship as enumerated in the US constitution and Bill of Rights.
Muhammad Ali became The peoples champion, a symbol of love and heroic endeavor:
Ali loved being Black and he strongly identified with blackism and everything black. There was James Brown (godfather of soul) hit song – ‘Say it loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud’ that touched and anchored at the center of black liberation movement. It does make sense for one to love and respect oneself before expecting others to do so. Mohammed Ali imbibed the meaning of the song and he never apologized for being black.
Ali understood quite well and put into practice that loving yourself as a black person does not implies hating people of other creeds and races in order to actualize self dignity. He refused to hate other people instead he extended and made friends beyond the circle of his black acquaintances.
Who can forget his bond and friendship with Howard Cosell, the great sport television broadcaster? Both of these gentlemen respect and adored each other especially when they played around. With the amity, respect and gregariousness between them he showed the whole world that black and white can live in peace and harmony.
Ali’s Islamic faith was not used as tool to divide and hate, rather it became a means to build bridges and make new friends. He had friends from around the world irrespective of their background or religion. Ali loved everyone thereby upholding his views on the equality and brotherhood of man. But he hated injustice and inequality in anywhere he found it.
In the 1970s when image of Africa was in the mud, when Africa was heaped with images of dark, primitive and wild descriptions, Ali did not turn his back from the land of his fathers. He brought one of his greatest acts to Congo Zaire in the festive boxing match with George Foreman in the so-called ‘Rumble in the Jungle’.
Despite the name given to boxing bout, when the world came to Kinshasa the capital of Zaire, they saw modern infrastructures, roads and cars in the happy Africa. He aided in changing the perception of Africa despite western media persistent propaganda.
He did not only display his love for his heritage in Congo-Zaire but he was also in Nigeria. When many Black Americans were afraid to go to Africa, Muhammad Ali and James Brown were visiting Nigeria and they loved it. Ali brought lots of smiles and laughter to Africans especially to downtrodden that were lacking hope with his magical sense of humor.
One of the greatest qualities of Ali was his boldness. He never shrinks from limelight and never afraid or intimidated to call situation the way he saw it. He hated injustice and always gave his best to restore the dignity of man. Without doubt, our world was better-off with Ali’s presence and participation.
Emeka Chiakwelu, Principal Policy Strategist at AFRIPOL. His works have appeared in Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Forbes and many other important journals around the world. His writings have also been cited in many economic books, publications and many institutions of higher learning including tagteam Harvard Education. Africa Political & Economic Strategic Center (AFRIPOL) is foremost a public policy center whose fundamental objective is to broaden the parameters of public policy debates in Africa. To advocate, promote and encourage free enterprise, democracy, sustainable green environment, human rights, conflict resolutions, transparency and probity in Africa.