A year ago, the world lost a great man. We lost Muhammad Ali.
Ali was a boxer who brought glamour, class, elegance to boxing. Ali was the Heavyweight Champion and was the first person to become heavyweight champion three different times. Muhammad Ali also had a great boxing record. He had 56 wins, 5 losses, 37 knockouts.
Not only was he a great boxer, he was engaged with society. Ali couldn’t be caged into a professional cocoon. He spoke and actively engaged about race, family, religion, hard work, politics, war, and peace. He took personal stand for what he believed even at a great loss to him and his career.
Ali had an interesting relationship with Africa. In 1964, he visited Ghana, Nigeria and Egypt. Ali knew how to engage people so well. During his visit to Lagos, Nigeria, he sat on the car as he was being driven to his hotel. Muhammad Ali was back to Lagos in 1979 for the inauguration of President Shehu Shagari.
In 1974, Ali had his most significant moment in Africa. Upon the invitation of the President of Zaire ( Now called DRC), Ali and George Foreman had a fight. That fight dubbed the Rumble in the Jungle is perhaps the first most significant sporting event in Africa. Ali put Africa on the sports map. Ali had other engagements with Africa mobilising support for boycotts and supporting Orphans.
Ali was a good speaker. Ali used words effectively to intimidate his opponents, mobilise his supporters, communicate his views and waoh his listeners. Several statements he made during those speeches have become quotes. Perhaps no sportsman has been quoted as frequently as Ali.
Ali retired from boxing and became a philanthropist. Ali as a people’s man can’t just stop engaging with people. And the people loved him in return. He called himself the Greatest of all time and people accepted him as such.
Ali use every opportunity to show his heart of kindness. According to him, “Many fans wanted to build a museum to acknowledge my achievements. I wanted more than a building to house my memorabilia. I wanted a place that would inspire people to be the best that they could be at whatever they chose to do, and to encourage them to be respectful of one another.” And so he invested and started the Mohammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky, his hometown. That facility remains till that and continues to transform lives even after Ali has gone.
Former President Clinton describing Ali said “I think he decided… he would not ever be disempowered. He decided that not his race nor his place, the expectations of others, positive, negative or otherwise would strip from him the power to write his own story. ” And he wrote a great story of himself.
One career lesson from Ali is that a professional must be versatile. Don’t cocoon yourself or limit yourself. Use all your strengths, understand topical issues, engage society, stand for what you believe.
Another lesson is to always remember that people matter and connecting with them even matters more. Today, the world remembers Ali. What will people remmber you for?
Mohammad Ali… boxer, activist, philanthropist, friend and people person, remembered again for his life and contributions.
Fawehinmi, education enthusiast, development and leadership trainer and entrepreneur @yomitheprof