I know where I’m going and I know the truth, and I don’t have to be
what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want.
Muhammad Ali, 1942 - 2016
Do you remember the first time you ever truly understood
what Black Magic really was, when it showed out?
For me, one of those moments came when I was about 8 years old.
It was a Saturday afternoon, and I remember Pops had come home
from the office. The back door was open, and it was a cool breeze that
came in. The TV we had in the dining room then was tuned in to ABC.
“Wide World Of Sports” was on, and it was airing a boxing match. “The
Thrilla In Manila”, Muhammad Ali versus “Smoking” Joe Frazier. I had
seen Ali before in one or two kids’ shows, mainly the infamous “Different
Strokes” episode where he scared THE Gooch off Arnold’s back. Seeing
him fight, was a revelation. The surreptitious movements, the endurance.
The swagger that poured from him as much as the sweat did that day. I
felt it, even though this was a replay of a fight that happened before I
was a thought. Then I looked at Pops. His face was a mixture of calm,
assured delight. He grinned every time Ali danced, intently listening to
the play-by-play from Howard Cosell. That was Ali. That was Black Magic,
uncut. That was what he gave to US.
Photo Credit: AP
I have a dear uncle of mine in London, England. Uncle Pal, Leroy Silvera.
He went over to England to work in the 1950’s from Jamaica, & went on
to be one of the city’s foremost carpenters and construction experts. To
this day, while sipping a Guinness, over the phone, he’ll talk about how
he used to call himself the Cassius Clay of London and laugh. There was
seriousness to it - the moniker came because of how he had to put the
hands on a few racist blokes spurred on by Enoch Powell and others who
weren’t keen on Black Caribbean folks there. He admired Muhammad Ali
so much that he even joined a gym to hone his pugilism. Again, Ali was
a hero, one of the live wires that transmitted Black Magic to those who
On this morning, after Muhammad Ali has left this world, you’d be forgiven
for thinking that it simply isn’t true. Someone who has made history with
their heart as much as their fists, who’s that larger than life, shouldn’t be
bound by what mortal limits there are. I mean, consider the breadth of this
man’s life. Black. Boxer. Poet. Millionaire. Actor. Singer. Muslim. Revolutionary.
Philanthropist. Champion. If there is ever to be a visit from beings past our
ninth planet, it would not surprise me if after “peace” came from whatever
orifices they could speak through were the words, “Float like a butterfly,
sting like a bee!” Like I said, Black Magic transmitted. Floating. Stinging.
Photo Credit: AP
I take pains to emphasis how Black he was, because you’re undoubtedly
going to read and hear how he “transcended race in America”. That’s a
rope-a-dope that the system wants to you swallow. Ali wasn’t a sucker to
be blind to what ills this country suffered. There was a time where he was
the most reviled figure not only in sports in America, but the world. He was
outspoken about it, for our sake. Dig that - he was outspoken FOR OUR SAKE.
He was revolutionary, and willing to fight in and out of the ring for Black
people. He was keen on brotherhood, and peace and outspoken. He would
meet with anyone to do what was right - Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro. And
he would often be successful. It has to be stated that way. Anything else is
an attempt to neuter who Muhammad Ali was. He faced up to the spite that
certain elements of this nation and society threw at him, once he joined the
Nation of Islam, once he refused to be inducted into the draft. And he won.
AND HE WON. During a time where this nation was close to being ripped totally
apart due to the Civil Rights struggle and the anti-Vietnam War effort. We needed
that. He was one of a few Black athletes who was willing to take a stand for
freedom. He paid the cost. And entered a second act of greateness. The will, then
the skill. We needed that. We needed him.
And he gave, continued to long after the last bell. Long after his hands
slowed, and his speech slurred due to the creeping Parkinson’s that affected
him. But he fought it, to teach the world how to live with love and compassion
as his faith taught him. Think about it - even in the last years of his life, did
you ever see him slow down? Muhammad Ali was everywhere. Commercials,
books, magazine ads…proof positive that the man was an four-time champion.
The last being, a champion of life.
Muhammad Ali, lives on. Long after the final bell, long after the cheers. He lives
on whenever someone laces up their gloves in the gym. He lives on in the ragged
breaths one takes as they’re pushing themselves to go one more mile. Ali lives on in
the steps of those on the streets marching against brutality and oppression. Ali
lives on in the joy that rises in the eyes of elders who remember seeing him in
the flesh. Ali lives on, in Louisville. Harlem. Rome. Kinshasa. Havana. Manila. And
all of the corners of the globe. Muhammad Ali will live on wherever there is magic,
and soul. And laughter. And like the Black butterfly he was, he has trailed
off into the horizon where everything is beautiful.
May he rest, and may we be better for him being here.