The Legacy of Muhammad Ali: Greatest Role Model for African Americans

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By: DiversityWorking Press
Date Posted: June 12, 2016

"He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life." - Muhammad Ali





The world has just bid farewell to the man called “The Greatest” - - Muhammad Ali, the “people's champ,” but his legacy will live on. For all Americans. Most especially for those facing difficulties or challenges.

For Muhammad Ali's life is an exemplary example on how to successfully live one's life despite adversities and seemingly unsurmountable obstacles.

The above-quotation from Ali is an apt reminder, and as his widow was also quoted as saying her husband was "proof that adversity can make you stronger." (Aljazeera)

Yes, for Muhammad Ali grew up in that divisive period in America's history when segregation was the norm. And at a young age, he understood well the evils of racism because he personally experienced being denied even the simple act of having a drink of water at a store – all due to the color of his skin. What drove this ugly truth deeper into his heart was the murder of 14-year old Emmett Till, which became national news and brought the issue of segregation to the fore. Both incidents affected him strongly.

After converting to Islam, he “changed his legal name from Cassius Clay, which he called his "slave name", to Muhammad Ali, and gave a message of racial pride for African Americans and resistance to white domination during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.” (Wikipedia)

Thus, African Americans can find in Muhammad Ali a role model to inspire them as they journey to their own life's aspirations. More so for blacks facing hardships and discrimination, Ali can serve as an inspiration for them not to be cowed by fear nor injustice, not to give up.

Many young black men getting into trouble are often found to be fatherless. This is not surprising. Although single mothers do their best to be “both father and mother” to their children, young boys need to have a positive male model to look up to, just as it is for young girls to have a positive female model, if they are to grow up to be well-adjusted adults in society, and succeed in life.

*Importance of Role Models

Role models play an important part in our growing lives. Parents naturally are their children first role models, but other adults in children's lives, within and outside their family circles provide inspiration on how to grow up well, in a positive way.

Of course, role models can either affect children in positive or negative ways; hence, troubled children are often products of dysfunctional families, as studies have shown.

When we are growing up we look to our role models for inspiration and use this as a blueprint for how we should behave when we’re older. This is likely a survival function designed to help us to mimic the traits of those successful members of our society and thereby help us to be successful too. click here

One study shows the important role non-parental adults have in inspiring leadership qualities in youth:
There have been a variety of studies done on the effects of a young person's behavior and the influence of a "Very Important" non-parental adult (Beam, Chen, & Greenberger, 2002). There have also been studies done on how youth see significant people in their lives (Hendry, Roberts, Glendinning, & Colman, 1992). These studies support the important role of an adult in the life a young person. - click here

Positive role models boost young people’s motivation by modeling a guide to achieving success. For example, they likely have 1) an ability to inspire others, 2) a clear set of values, 3) a commitment to community, 4) an acceptance of others, and 5) an ability to overcome obstacles. -
click here

*Muhammad Ali as a Role Model for African Americans

More than his legendary success as the world's greatest boxer of all time, it is his fighting spirit outside the ring that Ali bequeaths to young people of ALL creed and race, but especially to young African Americans. “Ali’s outspokenness on issues of race, religion and politics made him a controversial figure during his career, and the heavyweight’s quips and taunts were as quick as his fists,” as one article on him on History.com says of him.

In fact, the story of how he got into boxing is a good starting point.
When his beloved bicycle was stolen, a tearful 12-year-old Clay reported the theft to Louisville police officer Joe Martin (1916-1996) and vowed to pummel the culprit. Martin, who was also a boxing trainer, suggested that the upset youngster first learn how to fight, and he took Clay under his wing. Six weeks later, Clay won his first bout in a split decision. - click here

Providential indeed the young Cassius Clay met Joe Martin, who helped channel his anger into something useful, and safe – away from mischief, away from a life of destruction. The rest is history as they say.

But at the same time, Clay later known as Muhammad Ali, fought undaunted for what he stood for, for what he believed was right and just – be it political, religious, and in his later years, he spent time and money doing good for others. His life, his career, his beliefs were a tipping point, so to speak.

One quote from one of the celebrities mourning his death strikes the most: "He dared to love black people at a time when black people had a problem loving themselves." - Senior Pastor Kevin Cosby, St Stephen's Baptist Church

Another quote reiterates that truth about Muhammad Ali: "He may have been a tough man in the ring but he was a compassionate and tender man around those he loved."
- Senator Orrin Hatch, speaking as a member of the Mormon faith

The following are some more highlights during his funeral which show how Muhammad Ali the Greatest has impacted people's lives.

Billy Crystal’s words during his eulogy for Ali brought the crowd to its feet: “[He] taught us that life is best when you build bridges between people and not walls. (The Guardian)

Rabbi Michael Lerner, speaking of the injustice against black people and Muslims, said "the way to honour Muhammad Ali is to be Muhammad Ali today - speak out and refuse to follow the path of conformity."(BBC)

"If Muhammad didn't like the rules, he rewrote them. His religion, his beliefs, his name were his to fashion, no matter what the cost. Muhammad wants young people of every background to see his life as proof that adversity can make you stronger. It cannot rob you of the power to dream, and to reach your dreams." - spoken by his wife Lonnie

Finally, in his own words, spoken in the ring soon after he won the title 'heavyweight champion of the world" in his historic fight with Sonny Liston, the reigning heavyweight champion at the time – "I'm the greatest!" Muhammad Ali showed confidence and belief in himself as well, boastful and arrogant it might have sounded at that time, - when he was 22 - but those strong words ignited him all the more as he carved his own niche in the world.

There can never be anyone like him, but he surely has paved the way for others to follow.





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