Uncle Ebo Whyte labels himself as Muhammed Ali

Writer and director of Roverman Productions in a recent piece says he is Muhammed Ali.

He addresed himslef like that in a tribute to the late former boxer, Muhammed Ali.

Read his unedited post

I AM ALI
Tribute to Muhammed Ali by James Ebo Whyte

I spent about two hours this weekend watching the memorial service of Muhammed Ali, the greatest sports personality of the century. The memorial service was held on Friday at the sports arena in downtown Louisville which was filled to capacity with celebrities, politicians, religious leaders from all faiths and ordinary people.

The speakers at the service were varied. There was a Jewish American comedian; there were two representatives from a Japanese Buddhist order; there were two chiefs and spiritual leaders from a Native American tribe whom Ali had supported.

There were two Jewish rabbis, there was a pastor, there was Attallah Shabazz, the eldest daughter of the late Malcolm X and then there was the former President of the US, Bill Clinton.

And all these people from all these different backgrounds and faiths had incredible things to say about him. I was struck with how wide range his friendships were.

To have Jewish rabbis; native American spiritual leaders, Japanese Buddhist leaders, pastors and Imams as your personal friends and to relate to all of them so deeply that your death, as Attallah Shabazz said, leaves them “depleted,” that is a mark of a man who lived an incredible life.

What struck me the most was what emerged as the central theme of almost all the messages. It was articulated directly in the presentation by Rabbi Joe Rapport and also in the presentation of Natasha Mandkur. And it was this: “I am Ali.” They were quoting a chant young people had made during the funeral:

“I am Ali.”
They said this to signify how much Ali had inspired them and how much of his values they hope they could live up to.

As I thought about it, it dawned on me that I should also be able to say that “I am Ali” because Ali belonged to the whole world. So, “I am Ali” because Ali inspired me to be confident and not to allow my fears to hold me back.

“I am Ali” because Ali inspired me to stand by my beliefs and be willing to pay the price when necessary. He believed the war in Vietnam was immoral and unjust and against his religious beliefs and he was willing to pay the price for refusing to compromise on that belief.

“I am Ali” because Ali inspired me to stand for something. He stood for empowering black people whose dignity was being trampled upon on a daily basis in the 1960s. “I am Ali” because thanks to Ali, I make no apology for being African and I don’t consider myself and my people inferior to any other people.

“I am Ali” because I too was once stripped of everything I was by an establishment that felt threatened by my gifts and self-confidence. And like Ali, I’ve had to rebuild my life again from nothing.

“I am Ali” because Ali inspires me to pursue excellence in whatever I put my hands to. Ali was not content to be just another boxer; he wanted to be the difference and so he proclaimed that he was the greatest and yes, indeed, he was and still is the greatest.

“I am Ali” because I too like Ali have made mistakes but I don’t allow those mistakes to define me. Ali made mistakes in his life. Under the influence of the founder of the Nation of Islam, the honorable Elijah Muhammed, Ali turned his back on his mentor, Malcolm X. Ali called that one of the greatest regrets of his life and he worked hard to make amends. I was struck that at the memorial service for Ali, all the six children of Malcolm X turned up with their children to pay their respects. And Attallah Shabazz, the eldest daughter of Malcolm X delivered one of the most moving eulogies to signify her closeness to Ali and love for him. Ali had obviously repaired the bridges he had destroyed.

It is human for any of us to make a mistake; to hurt someone who cares about us or to betray a trust. What matters and what makes a difference is what we do when we wake up to the mistake we have made. Ali ensured that the family of Malcolm X received the love he owed to their father and they turned up to mourn his passing as if they were mourning their late father all over.

“I am Ali” because Ali teaches me the value of a sense of humor. All those who eulogized Ali spoke of how funny he could me. He saw the lighter side of everything and loved to laugh and make people laugh. Too many of us take life and ourselves too seriously. We have to loosen up and learn to see the lighter side of everything, even of death.

“I am Ali” because at 62, I am becoming aware that age can rob us of so much but it cannot touch our inner spirit. That inner spirit does not age unless we let it. I watched Ali lighting the Olympic flame for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and I recommend that everyone goes on youtube to watch that. I teared up when I saw this once strong, energetic and lively athlete reduced to a shaking and wobbly man. And yet, Ali refused to let Parkinson disease steal one of his greatest moments from him. When the organizers of the games asked him if he was up to it, he was emphatic in assuring them that he would rise to the occasion. And rise to the occasion he did.

You see, the lives of extraordinary people are meant to inspire us. We are to pick the best their lives had to offer and make them our own. And when these extraordinary people die and we don’t pick anything from them, we are the poorer for it, we cheat ourselves and it becomes a lost opportunity.

Ali’s life is there for all of us to learn from. Let us learn from him so that each of us can also say with conviction: “I am Ali.”

 

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