By Kendrick Henderson
Halfway into 2016, death has taken some of our most revered artists in music: Maurice White of Earth, Wind, and Fire, the Purple One Prince Rogers Nelson, Billy Paul of “Me and Mrs. Jones” fame, and last but certainly not least Phife Dog from A Tribe Called Quest.
But one loss hit me like a ton of bricks. It was around 11 p.m. on Friday, June 3 and I decided to go to a local spot to listen to live music. My phone vibrates and it’s a text message from my buddy, Ken. “Muhammad Ali is dead, my brother.”
I literally stopped in my tracks and stared at the text message. I thought, “ This cannot be. Not the greatest.” I immediately thought about his most famous rhymes.
“Float like a butterfly sting like a bee. His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see.”
Unfortunately, my buddy was right. The Greatest was no longer here.
I know many Americans loved and respected Ali but nobody loved him more than black men, including myself.
Upon hearing of his death, I reminisced on my childhood during the mid-1970s when ABC’s The Wide World of Sports showed some of Ali’s fights. I watched with wide eyes and awe of his boxing skills. I was even more inspired by his confidence and camera presence—specifically his mouth.
Yeah, his mouth was big; his personality even bigger, but that’s what drew us to this man. Muhammad Ali was the true epitome of a strong Black man. He won Olympic Gold in 1960 at age 18. He shocked the world and became heavyweight champion, defeating Sonny Liston in 1964 at age 22. He’d eventually win the heavyweight title two more times in 1975 and 1978.
But, all that would mean much less to me later as I learned about the stance he took concerning the Vietnam War. The racial tension and unrest during the 1960s was at an all time high. Malcolm X was murdered in 1965; Dr.King in 1968. The Black Panther Party was catching hell from the U.S. government with a lot of help from the FBI. Then here comes this brash, outspoken black man speaking his truth. Cassius Clay, now Muhammad Ali after joining the Nation of Islam, challenges the U.S. government and stands by his religious convictions of not being drafted to go to Vietnam. It would cost him three years of his boxing career and being stripped of his heavyweight title.
“Why should I fight for a country that won’t fight for me? Vietcong ain’t my enemy. You are! Vietcong ain’t never call me a ni**er.”
And that was Ali’s truth and every black man in America truth—then and now. This is the essence we black men must aspire to get back to. Stand for something or fall for anything. As I mourn the lost of Ali, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes:
“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”
Rest in power, The Greatest.
Kendrick Henderson is a news and sports videographer, editor and writer. Kendrick hails from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and attended Tyler Junior College.
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