Muhammad Ali (1942-2016): Inspiration From A Life Well-Lived

by Ronke Idowu Reeves

On Friday June 10, 2016 Muhammad Ali was laid to rest in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Since his passing on June 3rd  there has been a global outpouring over the loss of this beloved genius. The world has a collective hole in its heart because all generations, from Baby Boomers to Generation X to Millennials, understand that in this rapidly ever-changing digital age there simply will never be another man like Muhammad Ali.

He was an original. A unique presence that encompassed and embodied so much to so many people around the world, he was beautifully enigmatic. We mourn him because we fully understand that we will never lay eyes on another man who is such a powerful, all-encompassing  mixture of strength, grace and humility, transcending words and defying definition.

In trying to define him you have to understand that his journey started in greatness.

Ali began his career as an Olympic champion, who morphed into a boxing champion. His quick wit, lyrical prose and boundless banter defined rapping before Hip Hop was born. He was a Black Nationalist known for a racial ride which reminded America daily that Black was beautiful. He stood for Black independence at a time when the U.S. didn’t exactly agree. He first embraced the Nation of Islam and later converted to Orthodox Islam and left his former name of Cassius Clay behind to embark on a new spiritual journey that became a political one.

When Ali refused the draft and to be sent into the Vietnam War, he was stripped of his championship belt and his license to fight. It didn’t just leave him broke and unemployed in the prime fighting years of his life; in standing up to our government, he demonstrated will and steely determination to stand by his religious convictions. After being allowed to fight again during his double feature of epic pugilist wars, The Rumble in the Jungle and The Thriller in Manila, these bouts didn’t just wow audiences, they reminded us all of his boxing legend during the second half of his championship career. Those battles also made Ali a direct forefather to generations of boxers including Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, who would come after him.

But boxing was just the sport and vehicle for his physical talents.  Ali was so much more. He used his worldwide recognition, beloved status and voice around the globe as international ambassador fighting for causes worldwide in countries like Ghana, Kenya, Sudan, Lebanon, Bangladesh and Iraq. Stricken with Parkinson’s Disease, he championed for legislation, and continued to help raise awareness and money to find a cure for the disease. The illness slowed him down, but never knocked him out. When Parkinson’s silenced him it was his quiet presence that continued to boom thunderously.  

Ali married four times, was the father of nine children and the grandfather of three. He was a brother, a beloved son and a citizen of the world. And he left behind a documentation treasure trove of his life, all meticulously chronicling it the entire time he was here. It’s there in every interview and TV appearance, from endless fight films to countless documentaries to even biographical scripted fare.

The best ways to celebrate and remember the life of this iconic legend are still with us. You’ll find them in the 1977 film The Greatest, where the iconic pugilist portrayed himself, and in the 1996 documentary When We Were Kings or in Michael Mann’s Ali starring Will Smith, released in 2001.  Viewing any of these films (or the countless other movies on his life) is proof and reminder that Muhammad Ali was one of the best modern examples of how to fully embrace life; letting your gifts and talent guide you on a journey and to embrace your own unique path in all its twists and unexpected turns.

When you think of Ali today and in the weeks, months and years ahead allow this great man and the great life he led to guide you to your own sense of centered-ness in your life. Remember him and remind yourself to remain open to learning along the way, changing your positions as you gleam more and to always be brave enough to stand by your convictions with strength and resolve.

Round after round in your own life take the lessons Muhammad Ali has offered the world and be the champion of your own story.

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