It is in the wee hours of the morning and I sit here on the edge of my bed pondering the life of a man who was a beacon of hope and strength for men and women around the world. With tears filling my eyes and a sadness on my heart that I take in the news of the death of Muhammad Ali. He truly was a legend in his own time.
I remember as a young white kid in the suburbs of Chicago being in slight aw of this man I saw on the television. But it was only as an adult when I truly came to have an appreciation and reverence for someone who was so far removed from anything I had ever experienced.
Ali, born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr, was the direct descendant and named after a 19th century abolitionist and politician. He was the son of a sign painter and a household domestic. At the age of twelve, it was a police officer who guided the then Cassius Clay into boxing. He was so mad at a thief for stealing his bike that he wanted to "whup" the thief.
One of things I have learned to appreciate in others is the willingness to never back down from a fight. Ali was one who embodied that strength and determination.
He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.
He was a man who rose from obscurity to a the level of legend, not just in the world of boxing, but in the world as a whole. There was never any doubt in my generation who the greatest athlete was.
Ali inspired boys and girls alike across all sports and ethnicities to reach for their dreams. He inspired people to reach for something beyond what the world wanted for them. He inspired them to be free to be themselves. If a young kid from Louisville, Kentucky could rise to such greatness, so could they.
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.
As an adult, I saw a man fight Parkinson's, a devil of a disease, with the same determination he had when he fought in the boxing ring. "I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'" The light you saw in his eyes as he held the Olympic torch in 1996 was testimony to just that. Parkinson's had taken much of his speech and left his body weakened, but the spirit that had won the Gold Medal in 1960 was still there, shining brighter than the Olympic flames themselves. That is what I will remember - a spirit that could not be taken down - no matter the kind of fight it faced.
Rest in Peace Muhammad Ali. Thank you for inspiring us to reach for more than what we are.
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