Your Eyewitness’ flag’s flying at half-mast: Muhammad Ali is dead. Even though he knew it was coming – after the great man was stricken for so long with Parkinson’s, he’d thought it would’ve happened long before – your Eyewitness is still very saddened. It could be because he’d so identified with Ali when he was just a young Eyewitness, maybe a part of him also passed on.
They say that young boys need positive role models…and Muhammad Ali was one positive role model to the young Eyewitness. Guyana’s struggle for independence coincided with Ali’s rise to fame. And while events conspired to make the local political heroes’ images become tainted after 1966, Ali’s burned even brighter. Your Eyewitness wasn’t old enough to remember Cassius Clay at the age of 18 winning the Olympic medal back in 1960….nor his knocking out of Sonny Liston to win the world heavyweight title 1964.
But right after his Liston fight he’d converted to Islam and taken the name “Muhammad Ali” and your Eyewitness was so proud he became a boxing fan thereafter. Ali was not just a bruiser…nor even just another “pretty face”: he was a man who had the courage of his convictions. Few today, could imagine how “weird” the name sounded because of the western media’s portrayal of Muslims.
In the US, Islam was seen as a joke because it was not the religion of a billion people but of some “fringe” US blacks. Muhammad Ali gave pride to Muslims everywhere…this man who “floated like a butterfly but stung like a bee”. But in 1967 when he gave it all up because he refused to be drafted into the US army to be sent to Vietnam the world had to take notice. “The Vietnam Congs weren’t his enemies…they hadn’t called him ‘nigger’.”
Ali could’ve had it all…money, fame and a US poster boy: that government wouldn’t have sent him to fight, he would’ve just even sent to boost the morale of the troops. Which included so many black Americans. But he was stripped of his title, hounded and harassed until the Supreme Court reversed his conviction.
Your Eyewitness remembers the 1971 fight when Ali faced the new champion, “Smokin’ Joe Frazier”. Even though he lost he did so gloriously – and never made the excuse that he’s been prevented from being in the ring for almost three years. He remembers Ali taking back the crown from Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire. But he remembers also, Ali coming to Guyana in 1979 to attend the opening of a small Masjid in Whim.
That was his greatest memory of “The Greatest”.
Say he’s naive, but your Eyewitness hoped Walter Rodney would’ve been given a posthumous award in this the 50th Anniversary of Independence. This isn’t to detract from the 85 awardees…but surely not all of them did as much as Rodney did for this country. And then, what would’ve been wrong with giving out 86 awards?
Rodney is a true Guyanese hero. Born in comparably humble circumstances, he won a place at Queen’s and excelled there in both sports and academics. Imagine he wrote an article on slavery that was published even when he was a fourth former! He did us all proud to earn his PhD at the age of 24!! And this was no PhD mill that just hands out awards but the London “School of African and Oriental Studies”.
Most importantly, for one glorious moment he brought this nation together. And showed how it can and must be done.
By being true to his identity (as an African-Guyanese) but respecting all other identities.
Let us honour all those who toil daily in the fields to put food on our tables. With the economy’s implosion accelerating exponentially, only they can save us from starvation by providing us affordable food.
They are heroes, also.