Muhammad Ali – UPstander, not a bystander

          I am not saddened over the death of Muhammad Ali. Quite honestly, there is no reason a man who was declared a traitor by his country, who was sentenced to jail, and grew up during the time of segregation and Jim Crow should have lived beyond 25. Many leaders of his time such as Dr. King and Malcolm X never lived to see the age of 40. Ali not only lived but he endured. He not only survived but he thrived. He fought injustice to the very end and was the definition of an UPstander, not a bystander. I was floored by the deaths of Michael Jackson and Prince because they died young, tragically, and alone after doing so much for so many. They did not deserve that. Ali fortunately died surrounded by friends of family after close to a century on earth. We should all hope to be so fortunate when our number is called.
          Rather than be saddened, I am going to enjoy the fact that I lived during his time. The fact of the matter is that he is one of the few icons that literally defined the term “living legend.” He, along with Dr. King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and so many others, are people I read about in the history books or saw in documentaries like “Eyes on the Prize.” He was never really real to me until I actually saw him in real life. I’ll never forget the day when I walked into the student center as an undergrad at Georgetown University and he was literally just standing there. He was swarmed by so many people that I did not feel I would be able to even get close to him and so I just stared at the man in distant admiration and kept walking because at that time in my life, I felt like one of the best way to honor celebrities was just to leave them alone and let them have a bit of normalcy. Just standing in his presence however, I could not help but feel his energy.
          There are going to be so many memorials and tributes to Muhammad Ali over the coming weeks. My hope is that as we remember him, we remember him as a man who transcended it all and brought people together. His daughter Maryum once said that they were approached by the son of klansman who said he was taught to hate black people but he just loved Ai so much. She said they all just cried in the restaurant. That is what our life is supposed to be about—teaching others that we are all equal under the sun and that there is no place for hate. That is what I will remember most about Ali along with the fact he spoke up whenever he saw an injustice, which is my goal as an UPstander. His presence will be missed but his spirit will live on in all of us forever and I am just glad that he was brought to this earth to inspire so many, including me. If you were truly inspired by him, re-commit to fighting for justice like never before no matter how small or large your sphere of influence. That’s how we can honor his presence and never forget him. Rest In Peace Mr. Ali. Rest In Power.