Men, Prayer, Politics, Horses, Detroit
It was a strange time in the northern stretches of Detroit. My parents, like so many, had fled the city’s outer ring ahead of ’67. I was too young to understand why. I did soak in the tenor of hushed conversations in adjacent rooms peppered with words like ‘black’ and ‘riots’ and ‘fires’. We settled into the white life of a distant suburb: gravel roads, ice cream trucks, summer parades and doors left open in case the neighbors needed something.
I recall catching Ali on the television and being mesmerized as he mocked and taunted Howard Cosell with his lyrical rhymes that got mimicked within my juvenile mind. I never had occasion to be in the company of anyone of a skin color not my own at that age. I watched every fight as a little girl, in awe of the grace, the humor, the wit and the courage.
But something else was happening. Here was a man, a black man, answering the questions not really even formed in my mind yet regarding race. He let me listen to a black man. He let me watch one, he let me learn something nobody in my orbit had any inclination to teach me about what it is to be black in America. And I listened, alone in front of that TV. Just me and Ali.
“I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize, but get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.” -Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali owned something called power, his own. I had never seen a man, or a woman own their strength the way he did. He taught me such was not only possible, but just. I had no context for his politics, I was far too young but it got recorded, stored in the permanent record of my mind only to be referenced in my deep consciousness years later as progressive politics infused my life.
Ali was cool. He was the first African American man whose life I witnessed. Through his grace and courage and voice, racism never truly found a foothold with me. Most kids my age then were inoculated against measles, chicken pox and the like. I was inoculated against racism with a vaccine that has lasted a lifetime. As I have moved into broader and broader circles since those early days, I automatically embrace my African American peers with the gross imprint of The Greatest embedded deep in my consciousness, viewing those of my own race with a cautionary eye. Through the years, my perpetual state of learning regarding those not like myself has been threaded with humility, a clear mind, and a foundation of understanding planted firmly in my heart years before by a man named Muhammad.
He was The Greatest. No more, no less.
© 2016 Nancy Kotting All Rights Reserved Reproduction by Permission Only