Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. proclaimed himself “The Greatest” and he had the talent to back it up but the impact he made on society through his strong beliefs in the black community made the dent even bigger.
Clay was born on January 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky. Unfortunately, the 3-time Heavyweight World Champion passed away on the afternoon of June 3, 2016.
Clay later changed his name to Muhammad Ali after converting to the Islamic religion and announcing his place in the Nation of Islam, also saying that Cassius Clay was his slave name.
Born into an era where blacks struggled to be equal, Ali became a face many would remember. Changing his name was just a start. His talent in the ring made a dent in history as well but his everyday life thereafter consisted of a stronger sense of black pride, and his resistance to white domination did not go unnoticed.
On April 28, 1967 he caused a wave of controversy at a time when being black, proud and opinionated was highly unfavorable. Ali refused to be enlisted into the Vietnam War because of his religion. Ali was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. However, the conviction was overturned by the US Supreme Court.
During the time, he was stripped of his titles and forced to sit out for three and a half years.
Louisiana barber Donald Baker grew up watching Ali box in the ring and said there was a lot of racial tension at the time.
Ali’s religion, the Nation of Islam, was not a very popular religion group back then, and was often called the black man’s religion, Baker remembered.
“He [Ali] was boisterous and always talked about knocking someone out,” Baker said. “The white people didn’t like that. And then he converted to Islam … He had a big impact on the black community because he was out there telling the truth.”
“In schools, students are taught that black history started with slaves,” Baker said, “but they don’t teach about when blacks were kings and queens before they were kidnapped.”
Ali could be seen many times talking about how many of our own were robbed of their real names, culture and history in slavery. He also talked about how we were brainwashed to believe that everything bad is black.
In 1968 while discussing the word black he said, “It’s our job to re-brainwash him to teach him that rich dirt is black dirt. Don’t feel bad. Strong coffee is black coffee…he need some black history and needs some black culture so he’ll know who he is and be proud of to be who he is …”
Sometimes it’s easy to forget who we are and where we come from. It’s even harder to find out where we’re going when we’re blind to where we’ve been. It’s easy for a person to check out of reality but Ali was a constant reminder that a person must keep fighting. He not only encouraged and inspired many to believe in themselves but to take action for what they wanted.
The generation that’s being raised now and the generations to come are constantly losing icons. We’ve recently lost Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Prince and countless others. With each gone, it feels like the black community is slowly disintegrating.
Baker said he believes that the next generation won’t be the only ones lost. He said he thinks the current generation will be lost too.
“In general, I don’t think it’ll [Ali’s death] impact us at all,” Baker said. “With social media and everyone killing each other – athletes now may do something in their community but they aren’t doing a whole lot. They’re [the generation] not going to take what he [Ali] stood for and use it. In a couple of years, it’ll be forgotten.”
During Ali’s profession, he fought in notable bouts against other great athletes, such as Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman. His career consisted of 56 wins, 37 knockouts and just 5 losses. His victories sealed his legacy as a great boxer, but his humanity and philanthropy in the black community sealed his legacy as the greatest of all time.
At 74 years old, Ali still taught us always ask questions. He taught us to be courageous. He taught us to help those in need. He showed us it was ok to make a difference.
A lost generation is fighting to find a way like The Greatest. The Black Lives Matter Movement is just the beginning. More leaders are needed and they cannot be afraid of controversy especially if it means doing the right thing. Future generations should take note.