He was a generation before my time, but growing up in my house, Muhammad Ali was a religion. He’s a transcendent figure whose courage and charisma truly shook up the world. As a kid in Chicago my dad fought, Golden Gloves, so I grew up on the sport of boxing. Though I never saw an Ali fight live as I came into the world a decade too late, I watched dozens of his bouts with my father on ESPN Classic throughout my childhood.
Our family’s claim to fame has always been that my dad’s brother was in Kinshasa, Zaire, for the Rumble in the Jungle. As a high school student, I must have watched When We Were Kings (a documentary telling the story of Ali’s famous fight with George Foreman) fifty times. He was my father’s hero. And by the tender age of thirteen, he’d become mine. Anyone who grew up with me knows I was mouthy, quick to speak my mind and always wanting to be a voice for the voiceless. While other kids were trying to be like Mike, I was, and still am trying to be like The Champ. Some things changed as I grew up, but my porous mouth filter, need to blaze a trail uniquely my own and desire to champion causes that matter to me never did. I have my parents, and Muhammad Ali to thank for this.
I’ve said it so many times, during so many presentations, in so many locker rooms, that it flows off my tongue as gospel, “Let’s shake up the world.” Thirty-five years after his last fight, his infamous pronouncement, “I shook up the world,” resonates more strongly today than when he first shouted it after knocking out Sonny Liston. There will never be another like him. Ali will forever live on in the hearts and minds of global citizens, underdogs, activists, leaders, rabble-rousers, instigators, agitators, and audacious individuals courageous enough to stand up against the machine, injustice and conformity.
His legacy will live on in perpetuity. He transcended sports and generations. On this day, that we celebrate the life of the great Muhammad Ali, the most audacious of them all, may we channel our inner Ali, and pay tribute to a hero by embracing our responsibility and capacity to shake up the world. #IAmAli
~Michael W. Leach