The man known as the “Black Superman,” Muhammad Ali, passed away Friday, June 5, 2016. More than a boxing world title holder, this icon whose story is well documented in many Black and mainstream archives became a champion for the oppressed and ignored, first in the U.S., and then the world over. Reviled by so many white people at first because of his uncompromising Black Power allegiance, his embracing of Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam in the 1960s and refusal to serve in the Army during the Vietnam War, he was to become revered as a civil rights notable and globally loved humanitarian.
After battling Parkinson’s disease for more than 30 years, the once boisterous and boastful athlete, actor, activist and showman became a mellow, humble and quiet but effective social soldier.
Saturday, June 4, the world was in shock and mourning to learn of Ali’s passing from septic shock. Observers wondered if years of taking power punches to the head in the ring during his pugilist career might have contributed to the onset of Parkinson’s disease.
“It is a great loss,” filmmaker Spike Lee told the Amsterdam News as he prepared for the Saturday, June 4 birthday celebration of Prince, yet another great international loss. “He was the Greatest of all time. He was one of the most popular human beings ever, and he was a great man. He was a visionary. He had ethics, morals. He cannot be bought. A great example, not just only for African Americans but for the whole world.”
“I, my wife and family and the members of the Nation of Islam past and present mourn the loss of our brother Muhammad Ali,” said Minister Louis Farrakhan. “Our deepest sympathy and condolences go out to his family and to all those whose lives his life touched. There is a verse from the Bible and a verse from the Holy Qur’an that run through my mind at this time that I would like to express. One is found in the Bible in the Parable of the Talents, Matthew, 25:23: ‘His master replied, Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ The Holy Qur’an, 2:154, says, ‘And speak not of those who are slain in God’s way as dead. Nay, (they are) alive, but you perceive not.’
The flesh of Muhammad Ali must return to the earth, but what he has done for the cause of Islam, for the cause of freedom, justice and equality will never die. These are the words that strike me, a life well lived and a job well done. He has finished his course. May Allah (God) grant him the Paradise that we believe he justly deserves. May Allah’s mercy be with his family and with us.”
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, it’s so sad to say good-bye to Muhammad Ali … I love Muhammad Ali!” declared Assemblyman Charles Barron. “He was one of my greatest role models. He was a man of his time. The time of Black Power, revolution, liberation, African consciousness and cultural awareness. He embraced it all. It was a time when oppressed people all over the world were rising up and winning their freedom, and Muhammad Ali was a global inspiration. He sacrificed millions of dollars and the most precious time of his young career to stand on his principles. Most importantly he loved us deeply, and man did we love him back. Muhammad Ali will never die. His spirit will live eternally in all of us freedom-loving warriors. He was a global legendary icon. Rest in peace Champ, for you will always be the Greatest of all time!”
“Being in the presence of Muhammad Ali, was really being in the presence of greatness,” said Elinor Tatum, publisher of the Amsterdam News, who met him in 1998 at an award ceremony in Manhattan. Tatum added, “He embodied grace, pride and glory. He was a man beyond measure, and a true national treasure.”
This reporter met Muhammad Ali in the 1990s in England. The everlasting takeaway was that a man I have grown up watching, hearing and admiring did indeed reflect a powerfully grounded and deep-rooted love for his people and global issues. That the whole world was able to benefit from his generous personality, love and humor is just a testimony to him, his parents and his ancestors.
“Muhammad Ali challenged the world just as he challenged an opponent in the ring—with conviction and excellence,” said Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright. “He was the poet of a generation and the world he left behind is forever changed thanks to the fight Ali fostered in all of us. I join in celebrating the life of an American hero, one whose many victories will reverberate for decades to come.”
City Council Member Jumaane Williams recognized both the beginning of Ramadan and the passing of Ali in his statement: “I would like to wish my Muslim brothers and sisters a ‘Ramadan Mubarak,’ or Happy Ramadan. This holy month of fasting, charity and prayer is a time for reflection, a time to focus on self-reformation and how best to serve our community. These are lessons we can all apply to our lives, regardless of own personal creed.
“In this time of xenophobic rhetoric and bigotry towards Muslims, let this month serve as a reminder of the peaceful tenets that Islam truly stands for, and not the extremist divergent views that are constantly perpetuated as the norm for Muslims. We cannot as a nation mourn the death of Muhammad Ali, one of the most well-known Muslims, yet be passive when a man is attacked because of his faith, such as the incident that took place yesterday with Mohamed Rasheed Khan, a Muslim man who was beaten outside of a Queens mosque, allegedly because of his faith.”
“If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they would not have to draft me; I’d join tomorrow,” said Muhammad Ali in 1967 on refusing to be drafted. “I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”
Activist Omowale Clay stated, “These are powerful words from a real people’s champion. Ali was a Black man who made the choice of his beliefs, honor and people over the injustice, racism and lies of the United States government. He won his battles because he was first, more fearful of violating his own integrity than anything the government could ever do to him. Ali stood up yesterday, so that so many today could find their way through the maze of bribes, lies and compromises that are pushed in their path.”
As preparations are being made for funeral services to be held in Ali’s hometown in Louisville, Ky., Clay announced,“The Black community will honor its people’s champion Muhammad Ali on Saturday, June 11, 2016 at 4 p.m. in front of Sistas’ Place, coffee shop at 456 Nostrand Ave., Brooklyn.”
The street rally and tribute to Muhammad Ali will have community leaders present, but most importantly Clay said, “It will let ‘the people,’ whom he loved, speak out on who Ali was to them. It will be a community sharing of the ideas and actions that made him great, first to us.”