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NAJEE’S NOTES: The greatest of all time

Muhammad Ali, the boxing legend, activist and humanitarian who made his mark on the world, was truly the “Greatest of All Time.

His death on June 3 from septic shock due to unspecified natural causes left many in mourning across the globe. Ali spent the final hours of his life surrounded by his family after initially being hospitalized in the Phoenix area on June 3.

On a personal note, I was devastated. Ali was the greatest man I’ve ever met in my life. When I embraced Islam 25 years ago and changed my name, I wanted it to be after someone I admired. Jazz saxophonist Najee was my favorite musician. Muhammad Ali was the man I wanted to be like.

My last name is in honor of Ali. As a member of the Muslim community, I eventually met Ali several times and became close friends with several family members. One of the highlights of my life was at our annual Islamic Convention in Chicago. I was walking with Ali to the VIP backstage section with his children and his longtime friend and photographer, Howard Bingham.

I was carrying my infant son with me. Ali looks over at me and extends his arms over. He wanted to hold my son and kiss him.

I handed my son to him as Ali gently held him and kissed him. I’ll never forget that moment. I then continued to escort Ali backstage to meet his longtime friend and my deceased father-in-law, Imam W.D. Mohammed. That was the last time I would ever see Ali alive.

Ali was a devout Muslim, who lived and died as a Muslim. There are some who want to demonize Islam and Muslims. But the Muslim community could always point to Ali as our champion who was the Muslim community’s greatest ambassador.

In the aftermath of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, Ali said, “What’s really hurting me — the name Islam is involved, and Muslim is involved and causing trouble and starting hate and violence. Islam is not a killer religion, Islam means peace. I couldn’t just sit home and watch people label Muslims as the reason for this problem.”

By no means was Ali perfect, but he was sincere.

What made Ali great was that he had the courage and conviction to stand up for his religious beliefs. When he refused the United States demand that he be enlisted in the military draft he responded with “I ain’t got no quarrel with the Viet Cong. … No Viet Cong ever called me nigger.”

Ali also responded with quotes such as, “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?

“I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over.”

Ali didn’t stop there. He continued his verbal truths with quotes during that time period that included “Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn’t choose it, and I didn’t want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name, and I insist people use it when speaking to me and of me.”

“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.”

“We were brought here 400 years ago for a job. Why don’t we get out and build our own nation and quit begging for jobs? We’ll never be free until we own our own land. We’re 40 million people and we don’t have two acres that’s truly ours.”

Ali’s militant stand cost him. He was banned from boxing for three years during the prime of his career and lost millions of dollars in boxing and endorsement income until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction and ruled in his favor.

When Ali returned to boxing with a vengeance, he still never wavered in his blackness. Before Ali’s fight against Jerry Quarry in 1970, he said, “Nobody has to tell me that this is a serious business. I’m not fighting one man. I’m fighting a lot of men, showing a lot of ’em. Here is one man they couldn’t defeat, couldn’t conquer. My mission is to bring freedom to millions of black people.

“I’m gonna fight for the prestige, not for me, but to uplift my little brothers who are sleeping on concrete floors today in America. Black people who are living on welfare, black people who can’t eat, black people who don’t know no knowledge of themselves, black people who don’t have no future.

“I know I got it made while the masses of black people are catchin’ hell, but as long as they ain’t free, I ain’t free.” Those are just a brief handful of quotes that help make Ali the Great of All Time.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was among those who chimed in on Ali’s death. The city, he said, was mourning with the fighter’s family.

“Muhammad Ali gave us incredible skill as a fighter, an incomparable gift for words, and a peerless legacy as a sports and cultural icon,” Garcetti said in a statement. “He also modeled the extraordinary power of self-determination — inspiring millions to treasure their humanity, claim their dignity, and give all they have to the global causes of peace, justice and equality. … ‘The Greatest’ is no longer with us in body, but his spirit lives in the hearts of all who were touched by his grace and strength.”

Mayor Garcetti couldn’t have said it better. Maryum May-May Ali the champ’s eldest daughter just know that our prayers go out to you and your entire family. We’ll always love and remember your dad. Muhammad Ali will always be the Greatest of All Time.

As I predicted months ago, it’s now officially Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump. I want to congratulate Bernie Sanders and all his supporters. My heart was with Bernie because I was feeling the Bern. But ultimately my support and vote went to Hillary. She’s more than qualified to get the job done. Let’s unite the Democratic Party and keep the White House.

Congratulations to Van Brown, Mayor Aja Brown, Urban Vision and Cross Connextion, in conjunction with the city of Compton’s My Brother’s Keeper, for helping the city’s male youth. They will be attending a free mentoring overnight summer camp this weekend in the mountains of San Bernardino.

This is a three-day event to help middle school students understand the meaning of manhood. Male students will be mentored in the basic steps to accept responsibility, explore resources and opportunities vital to their success as an emerging young man. Students will gain insight on how their experiences (negative or positive) can be used to create positive change within their personal lives, family, community and future.

In addition to the workshops being provided the camp will provide various youth activities including a giant water slide, bouldering room, zip line, tree climbing, giant swing, mountain biking, rec room, disc golf, arts and crafts, hiking, swimming and a skate park.

Now this is the type of leadership that makes the city of Compton so special. The registration fee was waived by an anonymous donor who enables low-income families and those who registered to attend the camp for free. The mainstream media is always in a rush to cover any negativity concerning the city but we rarely hear of positive stories concerning the city and leaders like Van Brown who are making a positive change in young people lives on a daily basis.

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