Addressing the legacy of Muhammad Ali on the Jim Rome show

Dr. Harry Edwards talks Muhammad Ali on The Jim Rome Show

“Noted sociologist Dr. Harry Edwards first met Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay, during his freshman year at San Jose State in 1960. Dr. Edwards joined The Jim Rome Show on Monday to talk about his late friend and how the legendary and outspoken African-American boxer was viewed with round condemnation in society during his prime because he wasn’t your typical athlete, falling in line with the thought that an athlete should be ‘seen and not heard.’

“Even within black society many people turned on Muhammad Ali when he changed his name and joined the Nation of Islam. They could not wrap their minds around why he would not go along to get along, especially with so much money at stake,” Dr. Edwards said. “And of course, the mainstream of American society flat out condemned him, villainized him, and that proceeded really for years.

“To this day, there are those who quote, ‘have not forgiven Ali for some of the statements that he made most certainly for not standing up and stepping forward in terms of the military draft,’ although he had every right to be a conscious objector under his religion and the laws of the United States.”

Edwards talked about how the three-time heavyweight champion became the model of the activist athlete.

“I think it came from one, his own spirit, his own iconic classic spirit. I mean, he was outspoken and breaking the mold before he became a member of the Nation of Islam. I mean, they called him the ‘Louisville Lip’,” Dr. Edwards said. “When he was [at San Jose State] working out for the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Julie [Menendez] couldn’t shut him up. He was already iconic, classic in terms of the historic and traditionally established mold of the black athlete, be seen but not heard.

“After he joined the Nation of Islam and under the tutelage of Malcom X, he not only continued to be outspoken, but his outspokenness had a broader substance and relevance to it. So the basic inclination, the basic iconic, classic norm-breaking inclination was already there, but what the Nation of Islam did, what Malcom X did, was to bring a broader relevance and substance to that inclination and that is what we came ultimately to see expressed by Muhammad Ali.”

When Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title for refusing to be inducted into the U.S. Army, citing religious reasons against fighting in the Vietnam War, the noted scholar, Dr. Edwards, said it took precedent in terms of an athlete taking a stand in something he believed in and has had a lasting impact.

“In terms of athlete, black athlete, political activism from that day forward, we see it today, in athletes running on the field for the St. Louis Rams in the ‘hands up don’t shoot gesture,’ we saw it with LeBron James and D. Wade in the hoodie demonstration, we even saw it when a group of athletes on several teams in the NBA, they would not play against the [Los Angeles] Clippers in the wake of some comments, some unfortunate comments by the former owner [Donald Sterling].

Dr. Edwards continued, “We see it in so many ways. The University of Missouri team siding with the students on campus over issues of race and so forth. All of that goes right back to Muhammad Ali. He was the godfather, he was the model of that, established the political disposition and activism of the modern black athlete in America.”

Edwards says Ali, who has gone from vilified to beloved by society, legacy, has been belittled like other true generational difference makers.

“Ali most certainly did not change. He was consistent in both his convictions and principles as well in his humanities. As he grew older, the mainstream of American society, in particular, tended to box him and frame him in a way that was acceptable,” Dr. Edwards said. “You see it with almost any outstanding African-American personalities in American society. Doctor King in so many ways has been reduced to ‘I have a dream’ because that way he can be praised and embraced in the mainstream. Malcolm X has been reduced to ‘freedom by any means necessary,’ that way he can continue to be vilified and rejected in the mainstream.

“I’m awfully afraid that Ali is being reduced to ‘float like a butterfly and sting like a bee,’ and ‘the Greatest’ and so forth, and that’s unfortunate. Because as he grew older, that came to be the scope and impact of his relevance he became more acceptable but at tremendous cost. So I think the terms are trying to maintain the true and valid legacy of Muhammad Ali and what he meant to American society and to black people in particular.”

Dr. Edwards says ‘The Greatest’ moniker associated with Ali, doesn’t scratch the surface of his true lasting legacy.

“The Greatest compared to what? Compared to who? I mean that doesn’t begin to encapsulate or encapture the breath and spoke of his significance and relevance,” Dr. Edwards said. “I mean, this is a man who stood like a colossus over the last four decades of the 20th century and literally was a transformative figure. He redefined not just what it mean to be an African-American athlete, but what it meant to be an American in a represented democracy. And for that, we need to standup and pay attention and try to understand how much of an impact he had on all of us.”

THE PLIGHT OF WOMEN AND GIRLS IN AMERICA: ADDRESSING THE CHALLENGES

In my 50 years of activist efforts around social issues (1968 Olympic Project For Human Rights, Player Development and Support Systems in Collegiate and Professional Sports, etc.), I have determined that there are THREE  FACTORS that are CRITICAL TO FOMENTING SUBSTANTIVE CHANGE:

1) AN ENDURING and BROADLY RECOGNIZED AND ACKNOWLEDGED AGGRIEVED POPULATION POOL SEEKING RELIEF/ REDRESS;
2) A RELENTLESS AND EXPANDING DEMAND THAT SUCH RELIEF/ REDRESS BE INSTITUTED;
3) AND A COMPELLING INTEREST ON THE PARTS OF THOSE FROM WHOM RELIEF /REDRESS IS DEMANDED.

In all three of these critical areas, efforts have tended to fall short of the mark re: women and girls:

Re:(1), there has been FAR too much silence (as opposed to vociferous outrage) relative to the magnitude, scope,  severity, and frequency of violence and other forms of abuse against women and girls, with underprivileged women and girls in particular being victims of this situation. SILENCE IS EVIL’S GREATEST AND MOST CONSISTENTLY DEPENDABLE ALLY!

Re:(2): We must recognize and implement the full scope and scale of “DEMAND” in this media-saturated age of mass communication . Not only the aggrieved , but PARTICULARLY MEN AND BOYS OF ALL STANDING AND STATUSES: the HIGH PROFILE ARTISTS (musicians, singers, etc), ATHLETES, POLITICIANS, PASTORS, ECONOMIC LEADERS, and COMMUNITY ORGANIZERS AND ACTIVISTS on CAMPUSES (there was not a single viable movement over the course of the 20TH Century that did not involve students/campuses as major actors) in the COMMUNITY (if a movement doesn’t reach the level of the community, IT WILL FAIL) . And there must be engagement of the POLITICAL AND STRUCTURAL APPARATUS THE  ECONOMY (social-cultural liberation without economic development is HOLLOW!). ALL, IN EVERY REALM OF SOCIETY MUST BE MOVED TO MANIFEST AN UNFLINCHING DEDICATION TO STRUCTURAL AND SOCIAL-CULTURAL CHANGE RE: THE STATUS, CIRCUMSTANCES , AND OUTCOMES OF WOMEN AND GIRLS– AND EVERY EFFORT MUST BE MADE BY MEN AND BOYS TO PARTNER WITH WOMEN AND GIRLS IN THAT PROCESS.

Re:(3) : This is perhaps the greatest challenge – TO GET THIS SOCIETY TO REALIZE THAT WE WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO COMPETE SUCCESSFULLY IN AN EVER MORE GLOBALIZED WORLD WITH OVER 50% OF OUR CREATIVE POTENTIAL, POLITICAL INGENUITY, AND HUMAN CAPITAL LIVING UNDER PERSISTING HUMILIATION; THREAT, FEAR OF – AND ACTUAL – ABUSE; UNDER EDUCATIONAL AND ECONOMIC UNDERDEVELOPMENT AND, NOT INFREQUENTLY, OUTRIGHT MARGINALIZATION AND NEGLECT. IN THE END, A MAJOR IMPERATIVE OF THIS STRUGGLE MUST BE TO GET THIS SOCIETY TO REALIZE THAT MEN AND BOYS CANNOT POSSIBLY BE  ALL THAT THEY CAN BE UNTIL WOMEN AND GIRLS CAN BE EVERYTHING THAT THEY OUGHT TO BE !

If we are to succeed in mounting a viable and enduring struggle on behalf of ALL WOMEN AND GIRLS  – AND BY EXTENSION ON BEHALF OF US ALL -we must have a coordinated strategy to assault and surmount each of these three challenges. If we do not approach this systematic problem with a collaborative, coordinated systematic strategy, we will inevitably end up with a divided, multi-focused “Whack-a- pop up” movement effort that goes from crisis to crisis and issue to issue, from theme to theme and group to group – but which accomplishes little in the way of long term, enduring, systematic institutionalized solutions.
And finally, let me say this: if you really want to witness the urgency, the grave stakes, and the human toll involved re: the struggle to elevate the status, circumstances and outcomes of women, DO  A THOROUGH, OBJECTIVE, AND CONSCIENTIOUS
ANALYSIS OF THE SITUATIONS OF WOMEN AND GIRLS IN TRADITIONAL COMMUNITIES OF COLOR. What you will find are circumstances that can only be deemed a political and moral OUTRAGE and a manifestation of THE MOST URGENT HUMAN RIGHTS PROBLEM IN THIS NATION TODAY. The only issue is DO WE AS A NATION HAVE THE VISION, THE CHARACTER, AND THE COMMITMENT TO ACTIVELY AND EARNESTLY ADDRESS THE PROBLEM.

We can change

” The threat and incidence of violence against women and girls are as old as the human race and are unlikely to be significantly diminished.”

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But wait…there’s more about out capacity to change our circumstances.

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SO DON’T TELL ME THAT WE MEN AND BOYS DON’T HAVE THE  POTENTIAL VISION, CHARACTER, AND COMMITMENT TO FIRST HALT AND THEN TO ELIMINATE THE GREATEST AND MOST URGENT HUMAN RIGHTS AND PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS IN AMERICA TODAY: THE THREAT AND INCIDENCE OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS!

San Jose Suite

Professor Etienne Charles, professor of Music at Michigan State University, has composed and is soon set to perform San Jose Suite. The composition celebrates/commemorates 500 years of struggle against oppression across the Americas centered in cities named San Jose. The suite ends with a focus on San Jose, CA and the Olympic Project for Human Rights. A jazz composition, it is set to debut at the San Jose Jazz Festival this summer before being performed at the Newport and Monterey Jazz Festivals later in the year.

The following is a preview of the work.

Back in the day…

This picture was from 50 years ago. I was 22, doing research on the black Muslim family in NYC. Malcolm X was 39–and would be dead within 5 months.

Resurfacing this photo reminded me that if we stand a little taller, see a little farther, and reach a little higher BECAUSE WE STAND ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS.

malcom x