Monday, June 6, 2016

How The GOAT Impacted 8 Year Old Me And Changed Me Forever

The way I remember the Greatest of All Time

2016 is my year of recalibration.

And as I reflect upon the death of boxing legend and humanitarian Muhammad Ali at the age of 74 over the weekend, it is clear why these happenings are occurring. This second iconic death within a 90 day period is an acute reminder of the origins of my own personal strength.

Like many Black kids of the 70s, Muhammad Ali was my hero. Without question.

At a time when Black American heroes were few and often soft spoken (think Arthur Ashe - another hero to me as a actual tennis player), Muhammad Ali was different and captured my imagination from the first time I saw him on the small screen.

He was outspoken.

He was fierce.

He was confident.

And those were traits I'd never seen in Black people in my own real life circles.  I remember him most from 1979 as it was a tumultuous year for me personally. It was the year of his "retirement and comeback." There was the Lyle Alzado fight and countless replays of many of his most controversial moments to date at that time.

I remember not being able to peel my eyes away as replays of his anti-Vietnam commentaries were played again and again. Or seeing him talk enormous amounts of trash about his opponents and his legacy.

I also remember driving by his south side Chicago home and being shown where he once lived. It was sort of a mecca for me and family members who took us there. Hearing stories from family members and friends who'd run into him or witnessed him with his kids on the south side of Chicago riveted me. And it was not the riches or fame that attracted me to Ali and his story.

It was sheer bravery to be who he was and boldly speak what was on his heart; To be proud of his heritage,  his people and to speak out about what we suffered in this country.

1979 was the year I was sexually abused by a family member. It was year of a crazy Chicago snow storm and the year I first listened to Prince.

And while I'd never thought much of it before the passing of both Prince and Muhammad Ali these last few months, it was the year I figured out that I have a voice. A strong and powerful voice that started raising and asserting itself that very year despite what the world around me told me.

I was brave.

I was powerful.

I was fierce.

And I felt that way then at least in part because of seeing Muhammad Ali stand up again and again at a time when I felt like laying down. To this day, I live, lead and love fiercely. How grateful am I for reminder of the great life and legacy of Muhammad Ali as this reflection is fueling my growth into the next phase of my journey.

Rest in power, Muhammad Ali - you especially impacted this Chicago girl and woman she's grown to be. Thank you.