When Muhammad Ali died, I wasn't as affected as I was about other famous icons. I woke up the next morning and my dad was watching the Heavyweight Championship boxing match "Thrilla in Manilla" between Ali and Joe Frazier. Every news station was reporting it and social media was flooded with his fights, his words, his legacy and the title "The Greatest." I wasn't sobbing sad, but it was a loss and I felt bad that he was gone. But my emotion about Ali didn't come until I'd heard a comment by Piers Morgan.
Here's a photo of what he said.
Here was the emotion: the anger at his statement and the feeling of protection. I suddenly felt like a defender of Ali's name, and I understood that it had been because he was one of us; a part of this world, but also a part of the black community, an inspiration, an icon and leader. He was an activist for our civil rights and our lives. I had to say something.
My first article was jumbled. It was too much anger, too much opinion, too much random history and as my dad would tell me, "You aren't sure what you're talking about."
I didn't. I hadn't clearly defined what my point was, what I thought a black leader and icon was and who filled that role. My mom said that people feel like they're losing cornerstones of their world, their community, the nostalgia of their life. Think about it; aren't there people that we don't really know but who we can't imagine dying and leaving because they made us who we are, through their life, art, music, movies etc?
And then she asked me, "Who are your leaders and icons?" and I could only give her a few names, many of whom had died before I was born but were still relevant when I was born. That didn't count in either of our eyes. Are the leaders of my generation still being made or are they already here? Who do I see as a leader, an icon? The conversation was getting very deep.
When I think about leaders, I think of a representative. They represent us to the world, advocate for us and fight for us. An icon is someone of great talent, renown or importance who becomes immortal in the eyes of the world. No one will forget about Muhammad Ali nor will they forget about Michael Jackson or Prince. They have marked the world.
I never finished the second article, realizing the article about my place in the world wasn't important right now.
We watched Muhammad Ali's funeral and I saw people of all faiths and nations praising Ali, celebrating and spreading his message to millions. It was a very long funeral and I complained to my mom. She said, and I'm paraphrasing a bit, "You had to have been there in his prime, to understand how people feel. You can't feel the same emotion as the people who watched him. Let him have his day." Of course I argued with her about it but I later realized she was right. Every generation has their own heroes and they remember them vividly, along with their youth, their memories and a reminder of mortality. I could try to see myself watching the fights right from the stands or hear on the radio that Ali had won the Heavyweight Championship once again. But I can't remember the feeling of my legs against the seats at a boxing match, or the smell of popcorn and the buttery taste or the wind and sweat splattered across my face from the towering giants battling in the ring. Sometimes you have to be there.
My memories of Muhammad Ali are not many; in fact I remember George Foreman and Mike Tyson much more, one for grills and his kids names, and the other for insanity. However, Muhammad always seemed a world apart -- a statesman that had his time of glory and would always be "The Greatest" with no contenders.
My dad didn't understand why some people wanted to protect Stevie Wonder after Prince died. The sentiment was that we didn't have many left. But my dad reasoned that we were still here. Some of us may be the new leaders and icons of our time. Maybe our generation is following itself -- like the children of the sixties building a new vision that will last and create change. But we are the ones who are next up to create a new world, carry on or leave behind morals, and lead others to success and safety.