Showing posts with label Muhammad Ali. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Muhammad Ali. Show all posts

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Sean E. Ali Says It Better Than I Can....


From the “WHAT’S MY NAME?!” File…

"A man's true wealth is the good he does in the world." -- Mohammad

Superman died yesterday.



That is not hyperbole, not romantic nostalgia, not delusion, not exaggeration - it’s a fact as sure as you’re breathing in and out.

I'm going to wander a bit as I reflect on the passing of a Titan among Titans. A man who walked with legends and giants in his sport and kept stride before taking point and leading the way.

You probably know him by other names, the Kentucky Kid, the Olympic Medal winner, the Louisville Lip, the Mouth, Cassius Marcellus Clay, or maybe by the first name he bestowed upon himself before he went out into the world and made believers of everyone he encountered…
…The Greatest.



The second name he took ownership of, the name he fought under and fought for is the name we all know him by best after that first one - Muhammad Ali.

There was power there. There was power and dignity in the choice made. The name was bestowed upon him by the Nation of Islam, led at the time by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, but he took ownership of it. It was more than a badge of racial pride or rebellion - Muhammad Ali was the embodiment of who he was, the culmination of the search and successful establishment of an identity that wasn’t a product of oppression, social and racial inequality, or the gift rewarded to his lineage from some forgotten slave owner in the heart of a segregated so-called democracy. The name was his, it was his before he knew he was looking for it, and he would not go back to confines of anything else that may have made him more palatable to the conventions of a society that did not accept him or include him in the first place.

“WHAT’S MY NAME?!”

That was the question he set out to answer when, while he was still known as Cassius Clay, he was asked by a reporter about the meaning of his name and Clay responded that he would have to find out…

…but I’m getting ahead of my own recollections, let’s back up a bit.

When he was a little boy, Cassius Clay had a bike. He went out one day, stopped off somewhere, parked his bike and when he returned, it had been stolen. Clay and his mother reported the theft and the officer he spoke to just happened to run a program that taught boys how to box. Clay jumped on the chance to learn to fight because when he found out who stole his bike, he wanted to be able to beat him up…



…it was a different time, when we settled things with fists over bullets. Yeah you might get hurt, but you lived to fight another day.
Clay grew, became more proficient at boxing and eventually represented the United States in the Olympics bringing home the gold medal before turning pro and building a career that would be legendary. Clay was fast, he was powerful, he was strong, he was brilliant, and he knew it…

“It’s not bragging if you can back it up.”

When Clay was coming up in the ranks he gained another reputation. He was described as brash, bold, a loudmouth, a fool, cocky…

…in other words, he wasn’t liked very much.

We revere him now, but at the time? Cassius Clay was a showboater who was going to walk into his comeuppance one day. That expected day was when he fought for his first title bout at the age of 22 against Floyd Patterson. There’s a great story from a reporter who was sent by the New York Times to cover the bout that he was to run a loop from the site of the bout to the nearest hospital because they wanted to be sure he was on hand when Clay was sent into the intensive care ward by Patterson…

…that guy was probably disappointed by the outcome.

Patterson was cut down by Clay’s speed and power and the world had a new champion who loudly proclaimed who he was and would be for the remainder of his life…

“I MUST BE THE GREATEST!”



That night, he really did shake up the world.

And it wouldn’t be the last time he did that.

As Clay continued to fight the question he hadn’t been aware he was asking began to persist until it moved to the forefront of his association with the Nation of Islam. The Nation was considered a hate group by mainstream media in the heart of volatile times that would eventually be the Civil rights movement. Fronted by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and his outspoken, dynamic protege - Malcolm X, Clay finally confronted the question…
“WHAT’S MY NAME?!”

The answer became Muhammad Ali.

And no one outside of the Nation and Clay’s fans were cool with that. Reporters continued to call him Clay, which Ali would correct every time. Every. Single. Time.

He was Clay in the press, Clay to his critics, Clay on the billing of the bouts he had, and Clay to his opponents…

…in particular Ernie Terrell, the holder of the next belt that Ali had to claim on his mission of unifying the title to be the undisputed heavyweight champion.

Terrell called Ali Clay through the weeks leading up to the fight. Ali warned Terrell that if he kept calling him out his name that he would pay for it. Terrell persisted…

…Ali kept his promise.

“WHAT’S MY NAME?!”

This was the mantra chanted over and over again during that bout. Every time Ali laid into Terrell, he ended the exchange with that question. Ali would put Terrell on the edge, he would set the man right on the verge of a fight ending knockout…

…and then he’d back off, look Terrell in the eye as one man to another and bellow through what had to be a fog of pain and a haze of agony the question…
“WHAT’S MY NAME?!”

And then he’d open up on Terrell again. Step back to observe his work shake his head with dissatisfaction and ask again…
“WHAT’S MY NAME?!”

And the beatdown would resume in earnest...
...Ali dragged that beating out for 15 rounds.

It's in strong competition for the meanest, most brutal fight I ever saw in my life, the other being Mike Tyson’s first title match.

And actually Tyson was more merciful in that bout, he put that guy away much faster than Ali torturing Terrell.

But the end result was quiet and profound.

He was never called Cassius Clay again by anyone, friend or foe.
However it wasn’t the last time he’d have to stand up and fight for who he was and who intended to be.

“WHAT’S MY NAME?!”


There’s a reason I reflect on this particular battle and what follows almost immediately over the others. Ali had chosen to adopt a name, a religion, a culture that was as opposed to most of his numerous other achievements in and out of the ring. There’s a reason why this brutal ballet and the bigger battle in the offing - Ali’s refusal to be drafted stand out as I reflect on his life and what he was to me as a fan and a young Black Man coming up.

Ali took that stand knowing, absolutely knowing that he’d lose everything he fought so hard for. He’d lose the status, the money, the fame, the title, all of it because he chose to be true to his faith, principles and name by taking an unpopular stance.

But just like Superman, he stood there and waited for the bullets to fly. And for many that was it, Ali refused to step up and that made him unpatriotic at best, a traitor and a coward at the worst. This was before he became a hero to the mindset of the general public, before he put away men like Fraizer and Foreman three and a half years later. This was a time when a man who was a Muslim, true to his faith, true to his name, and dedicated to doing no harm that involved taking lives for a cause he did not believe in or support was no only unpopular, it was considered unAmerican.

“WHAT’S MY NAME?!”

It was an unspoken question, a new mantra, the click of a pendulum keeping time against the backdrop of bloodshed and rioting and the fall of voices of a generation. It was the cadence Ali kept time to as he stood tall despite his material losses. As he began to explore other avenues as a public speaker for the Nation after Malcolm X’s split from the organization. He was terrible at it initially, but as he had done in his previous life, he persisted until he became adept at it. The raw talent was there in his taunts and poetry in boxing matches, and like his fists Ali found precision in his words which only extended his reputation in the Black community as “The People’s Champion” and “The Greatest”.

“WHAT’S MY NAME?!”

He rebuilt himself in his time away from the ring. He answered that question conclusively to himself, his circle, his faith and Allah. He stood his ground, refused to be bought by offers of restoration of everything he lost through apology of wrongdoing and compromise for expediency’s sake. He was right in his heart, he believed what he believed.

He wasn’t in this fight for compromise, he was in it for a win.

The US Government didn’t know who they were fooling with.

The only people surprised by the eventual overturning of his conviction and restoration of his license to fight seemed to be the very people who condemned him and eventually vindicated him when they realized Ali could not be brought down.

“WHAT’S MY NAME?!”

That question has been answered. It was a name he chose, a name he owned and a name he fought for.

It was an example of what happens when one man believes in himself and has the presence of mind to remain true to himself as he discovers who he is.

“WHAT’S MY NAME?!”

That is the question I toss out ahead of me because the name Muhammad Ali chose belonged to my great grandfather who came to America the end product of a line that traveled through Iran, Iraq, India, Ethiopia and eventually Northern California starting in Sacramento and migrating down into the Bay Area.

It’s the name continued to be passed on to my grandfather and my father. It’s a name I wear proudly despite the drawbacks that come with it in a post 9-11 world.

It’s a family name I hold on to and when asked by more than a few folks, “Wouldn’t it be easier to change your name? Maybe take on your mother’s maiden name or something?”

Yes it would be easier.

But it wouldn’t be the truth.

It wouldn’t be who I am and who I will always be.

Muhammad Ali was my example a long time ago. He not only wanted to find an identity, but in pursuing that identity, he went to Africa and embraced the many cultures across that continent, he traveled the globe as an ambassador of sorts and never tried to deny who he was, or where he felt he fell short in his life.

These days, you talk to a younger generation and they draw back at the history they could avail themselves to, the discovery of something more than the narrow confines of the neighborhood they were born into and no farther. They are fronted these days by guys like Floyd Mayweather who asks what Africa ever did for him, as opposed to what he could to make the world a better place outside of an expensive sportscar in his driveway.

They look across the horizon but don't see anything as if learning about these places, cultures and people diminish being part of the USA (since that's were I am) - their end all be all.

They missed what Ali discovered by asking a simple question loudly...

"WHAT'S MY NAME?!"

It wasn't about being self absorbed or self serving for Ali, he was too busy trying to give of himself while discovering himself to become a complete human being.

"Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth."

He stood with pride and dignity even as Parkinson’s diminished his ability to speak and move. He continued to show up, be counted, to give well past his part, if things like that could be measured.

He didn’t hide. He didn’t walk away. He didn’t abandon who he was because the road would suddenly be easier if he just went along to get along.

He is, because his influence in my life is a forever kind of thing, my hero. He is the example I strive for still.

He is that for a lot of young men of my generation who, when heroes were in short supply, had the real Superman…
…and he looked like us.

And in my case, he wore my name when he could’ve gone back to his old one.

“WHAT’S MY NAME?!”

He is Muhammad Ali.

And he is the Greatest.

“WHAT’S MY NAME?!”

That’s a question I never have to ask, because just like Ali…
"I know where I'm going and I know the truth, and I don't have to be what you want me to be. I'm free to be what I want."

That was the lesson he taught me. And when I step into the ring daily, that lesson's a part of the gloves I lace up.
Now...

"WHAT'S MY NAME?!"

And more importantly, what's yours?
Peace be upon you. And upon you be peace.

Peaceful Journey, Champ. You will be missed but not forgotten.