Watching Muhammad Ali’s funeral procession last Friday was quite a remarkable and beautiful experience. All along the 23 mile route, there were thousands upon thousands of people lined up cheering, crying, mourning, chanting, throwing flowers, touching and kissing the hearse. Thousands, wanting their own moment to honor, thank, offer expressions of love and say goodbye. Poignant images, first a young man, and later on a little boy, ran alongside the hearse. Each in an Ali training stance next to the slow moving vehicle. Another was the shower of flowers being thrown. So many that the driver had to turn on the windshield wipers multiple times to regain visibility.
The greater beauty of this moment was the diversity of people who participated and shared in this ritual. People of all colors, races, religions and walks of life gathered in one accord to honor a man who touched their lives. A black man, a man of Muslim faith. A man who literally shook up the world and made it better. There was no fear, no hatred, no venom or vitriol, no divisiveness or ugliness lining those streets; just an energy of love and peace. This is the America that I grew up in and the America I want to see again.
The election season has kicked up a negative and hateful spirit, creating a scary time in this country. It seems we are at a tug of war for our values and what we as a people will stand for moving ahead. After seemingly taking steps forward in the election of our 44th President, there are some who would prefer to take us back to an uglier time in America. A time that many of our greatest voices stood against and fought with all they had to shake up America and the world to make the culture change. Some sacrificed their lives to do so, but America became greater because of it. Like Ali when he would take to the ring to fight his toughest and meanest opponents, we are in a serious battle for the very nature of who we are as a people. It’s time for this generation to come out fighting and, like Ali and other strong leaders in trying circumstances when up against the ropes, shake up the world. And make no mistake, the world is watching.
Ali extended his great legacy through what he accomplished outside of the ring once he hung up his gloves. A once controversial figure for standing up for his convictions, Ali became a symbol of inclusion, peace and love throughout the world. At home in America, he became a hero. A legend. An icon elevated even more by the grace and dignity with which he fought Parkinson’s disease for the last 30 years. He truly was The Greatest. And he is a product of America, who in spite of some ugly and shameful bruises in our history is great.
Seeing such a diverse group of Americans come together in such a seemingly disheartening time gave me hope. This is the America I grew up in and the America we need to fight tooth and nail to preserve. Not one person can be absent, or apathetic in this election cycle.
Muhammad Ali’s interfaith service was representative of his inclusive, peaceful and loving nature. There were many beautiful statements and remembrances to encapsulate the life of such a special man. Billy Crystal’s statement was markedly appropriate for such a time as this.
“Ali forced us to take a look at ourselves, this brash young man who thrilled us, angered us, confused and challenged us, ultimately became a silent messenger of peace, who taught us that life is best when you build bridges between people, not walls.” Billy Crystal at Muhammad Ali’s funeral service on June 10, 2016
You A’da know I am for tearing down the walls that continue to try to divide us. We certainly don’t need to build any more. Instead it is time to continue building bridges. Only then can we finally achieve our greatest good.
Where are my world shakers?