Honoring the “World’s Greatest,” his legacy, and how the Police Athletic League gave the boxer his start.
Khaliah Ali, daughter of Muhammad Ali, speaks out regarding the peaceful protests and violent demonstrations sweeping America following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Joining Ms. Ali is her son; Muhammad Ali’s grandson, Jacob Ali-Wertheimer. Jacob is a human and civil rights leader on the Harvard University campus.
Four years ago, “The World’s Greatest” died of respiratory complications related to Parkinson’s Disease. On June 10, 2016, he was buried near his birthplace of Louisville, Ky. Muhammad Ali was 74.
Khaliah Ali, who sits on the board of the Philadelphia Juvenile Law Center, says she and her son are carrying-on her father’s legacy of global citizenship. She emphasizes her understanding of the outrage over the police-involved death of Minneapolis’ Floyd but denounces the nationwide violence and vandalism of the past few days.
“While my father was a boxer — punching, jabbing and knocking-out his opponents in the ring, he was not a violent man,” says the Philadelphia native. “My father fought racial inequality and injustice through peaceful protest. He always stressed the importance of abiding by Martin Luther King’s credo, “No building will be burned; no store will be robbed; nobody will be hit, punched or beaten.”
Although Jacob disagrees with the violence and vandalism he explains, “My generation is frustrated with inaction and millennials are lashing out in anger; believing that rioting is the only method of generating attention and gaining results.”
Khaliah and Jacob go on to describe a pivotal moment in their grandfather’s life, coined the “red bike moment.” When Muhammad Ali—then Cassius Marcellus Clay—was 12 years old, a thief stole his new red Schwinn bicycle outside of the annual Louisville Home Show. Clay, in tears, found a policeman to report the crime to and stated that he wanted to “whup” the thief who stole his bike.
Serendipitously, the white policeman was Sergeant Joe Martin, who trained boxers at the local chapter of the Police Athletic League.
Martin encouraged Clay to learn how to fight before looking for retaliation. Martin’s gym was in the basement of the same building they were standing in. Clay showed up the next day to start training and he spent the next six years under Martin.
Had young Cassius not been the victim of a stolen bicycle AND had he not taken the advice of the police officer; his life would certainly have taken a different path. Cassius Clay’s stolen bike became a catalyst for his boxing career and illustrates by example how Cassius found his purpose in life at an early age.
From that point forward, Muhammad Ali experienced an awakening and began to seriously consider the realities of racial tensions in America and the effects of segregation and integration.
At a very young age, Muhammad made a conscious decision to use boxing as a platform for social justice and peacemaking on a global basis.
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