Yesterday was a rough day. And then I got word that Muhammad Ali died.
This morning my husband asked me if I had heard, as the news came out after he had gone to bed. He saw I had posted a photo on Facebook and said, “Of course you knew.” Because for this woman, one who is no fan of sports and actually despises boxing, Muhammad Ali has always been my favorite athlete.
I remember watching footage of him as a kid. His burnt honey skin seemed to jump out like Technicolor in black and white images and old video reels. He danced and pranced around the ring, he was the king of trash talkers. Which, I always wondered, is it trash talking if its true? If he tells you that he the greatest and that he’s gonna whoop your ass and then actually whoops your ass, is it not just him telling the truth?
As a kid watching him when my dad watched documentaries or old fights, I’d stare in awe. Lord, was he handsome. He was tall and big and powerful and strong. He was a jokester. And when he said he was pretty, well, he didn’t lie about that either.
As I got older, I learned more about him, aside from the celebrity. I hesitate to call it activism. Activists often fight for causes, the masses, the many, but I feel like Ali moreso stood firmly grounded in his own truth. He was passionate and unwavering in his objection of the war in Vietnam. He was unbreakable.
He was a profoundly unapologetic; of his blackness, is religion, his denouncing of white supremacy. As we remember him today and into the future, I hope and pray that we remember Ali wholly, and not hold onto an ideal memory of him being palatable for America. A few years ago, he received the Liberty Medal; 40 years after his freedom and liberty were stolen from him. He carried the torch in the Olympic games, the same contest on which he won an Olympic medal for the United States of America and upon returning home was denied service in a restaurant thanks to Jim Crow laws.
Someone once explained to me the process of preparing a Muslim body for burial. Quite ritualistic, the washing, wrapping, and prayers over the body are quite a way to say goodbye to his vessel as his spirit moves on to Paradise. I imagine that the ancestors have been waiting quite some time to get a good look at this enigma to see just how one man, who was larger than life, devoted father, partner and friend, can float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.
Muhammad and his daughter, Maryum. 1978
January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016