Often time when a legend passes on, the public is saddened, outraged, and a feeling of betrayal may overwhelm them as their icon is proved to in fact be mortal. Some idols only belong to a time, are unforgettable in the chaos of memories, and their peaks highlight our lives. However, with Muhammad Ali, the national community mourns at his loss yet rejoices in his legacy.
June 3, 2016, shook us all as we felt the words “Muhammad Ali dies at age 74.” The news was heavy and final, like the closing of a book; it stung like a bee, and as a national community we knew his spirit floated, transcended like a butterfly to peace. Ali died that Friday after being treated for respiratory complications, which somehow led to the news breaking of his quickened death.
Ali suffered for three decades from Parkinson’s disease (PD); a neurological disorder that slowly robbed him capped his verbal physical dexterity. Parkinson’s was Ali’ longest struggle which he challenged and conquered like most of his other trials. Ali was a man of faith, a black American, an athlete, a boxer, and a social pillar for justice and equality.
He pervaded the national consciousness in the early 1960s, as a young heavyweight champion; he converted to Islam, changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali, and refused to serve in the Vietnam War; he became an icon of courage, belief, ethics, and strength. Ali was very anti-establishment, he defined himself and the struggles he represented. He was living history, a man whose touch on issues transcended them.
Born Cassius Marcellus Clay on Jan. 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, and Muhammad Ali was born on Feb. 25, 1964. “Cassius Clay is a slave name. Clay means dirt. I didn’t choose it and I didn’t want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name — Muhammad means ‘worthy of praise’ and Ali means ‘most high’ — and I insist people use it when people speak to me and of me,” Muhammad Ali was all about redefinition and owning oneself.
On, June 10, 2016, we collectively itemized our index of the urban legend of Muhammad Ali. After a week of news sources, celebrities, politicians, and civilians sharing facts and anecdotal chapters as offerings to the autobiography of Muhammad Ali, Ali was buried in Louisville, Kentucky. Speakers who a living mid-legend themselves came to formally acknowledge the departure of a star.
Bill Clinton, Lonnie Ali, Bryant Gumbel, Attalah Shabazz (Malcolm X’s eldest daughter), Valerie Jarett, Billie Crystal, and many more were in attendance as speakers. Personal and compelling stories were shared, and words were given to the blank spaces we have on the comprised identity of Ali. Powerfully, Valerie Jarrett said, Ali was “not just a Muslim, or a black man, or a Louisville kid. He wasn’t even just the greatest of all time. He was Muhammad Ali. The whole is far greater than the sum of its parts.”
The parts of Ali are some of the most deeply captivating portions of American history. From radical to rhetorical, Ali was the greatest. Goodbye Ali, thank you.