Saturday, 4 June 2016

My time with Muhammad Ali.

I’ve lost the man whom as a child, I considerd my father when my biological wasn’t around.

Ali’s militant humanity and uncompromising blackness shone for me like a bright shining star, in a dark brooding ferment.

Racism at school was made easier because of Ali. White bullies supporting the latest white hope would be forced to concede Ali was the greatest.

Black men and women walked with their chests out and heads held high, literally beaming pride because of the example set by this conscious, fully awoke, black superstar.

I wasn’t just inspired, it’s too weak a word for what the man did for black people. I was literally transformed, infected by his supreme confidence and pride in his African self.  As a child this black man set the bar for black men of his day and beyond.

I mean when’s the last time you heard a black superstar speak out so uncompromisingly against the racism our people face?

I guess it’s going to be so hard, so hard to grasp the real historical significance off its what it meant of Ali in a time of mealy mouthed dusty negroes cow towing to Massa. In this a time of untrammelled white  supremacy and South African apartheid, this black Prince took command and shook up the entire world, through the sheer fiorce of his own personality and the most exquisite athletics skill we’ve ever seen in a human being.

I’ve been so very blessed. I had the unique opportunity to spend four days with Mohammed Ali and is family during the 2003 Brits Awards in the year.

Can you imagine? Me, a poor black boy from Manchester, who’d failed school, been to to jail, come out got a degree and 15 years on from sitting on my prison bunk in Strangeway’s Prison I was having breakfast with Ali!

Another few years later I would share breakfast with the Mandela’s. It’s almost a fairy tale come true. From where I came from on ‘road’ to meeting Ali was a huge journey of self discovery. If I’d self actualised through self belief, it was because of the template set by Ali, Malcolm X, Tommy Smith, Martin Luther Kin. and others like them, but Ali he was a prince among them.

It’s with great humility and honour, that I tell you that I was up close and personal with Ali, literally collecting him each morning for four days straight and I stayed with him thoughout.

I’d accompany him and his family to all his appointments. Other days his family would go shopping and it was just he and I.

When I met him and he shook my hand and in that most magical moment I was instantly transported ‘ this is the right hand that took down Joe Louis, Patterson, Fraser and Norton’ I literally did not want to let go ever. I felt it’s power even then, his massive hands generated warmth and phenomenal strength. It was alchemy to me, it lasted no more than 15 seconds but time stood still for me that day.

His genius, common humanity, his razor sharp humour, his generosity of spirit were even more impressive. Ali was a real joker.

We really connected and kicked off with my Mancunian back chat and his razor sharp wit.

On the second morning I’d picked up Ali from his hotel.

After the first day I felt so at ease with him. I had quickly developed a rapport and relationship with him. A man I felt  I’d known all my life.

We both kicked off with my Mancunian back chat and his razor sharp Lousiana  wit.

On the second day I’d arrived to pick him up at his hotel. Like an eager puppy I greeted him that morning, asking him,

‘Champ did you sleep well last night?’ Ali looked at me and said ‘Yeah I slept real good son’

I said chirped back, ‘I  bet you were dreaming about knocking out Joel Fraser.’

Ali looked at me quizzically. A wicked smile tickled his lips and a twinkle in his eye sparkled as he said, quick as flash,

‘Chump, I was dreaming about knocking you out!

I hit back ‘ Champ you too ugly to knock me out’ and with that we both chuckled embraced and headed for breakfast.

I watched him hard. I saw him tire due today di illustrating unless, but despite my constant  interventions to protect him from adoring fans, he always, always made time for them.

On one particular very long day, interviews, pictures, ect we eventually arrived home after 11pm.  I was worried because I’d seen him push himself through his illness that day and wanted to get him to his suite. I was shattered and I was only 40 at the time. He was completely exhausted.

We finally got to the hotel and as we waited for the lift Ali was barely able to keep awake. A young family approached us and asked for a picture. I politely declined saying the Champ was exhausted.

Who tell me too say that! Ali reviewed said ‘ Lee I will do the pictures’ He told me later in the lift ‘These people made me what I am today. I will always have time for those who love me’

It was lesson in humility and grace I’d never forget.

The #BritAwards was fantastic and again sitting with Ali where he received a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ was unreal. I was responsible for vetting who could approach Ali and get a picture. There we were with queues of celebrities begging like little children to get a picture with the champ.

I’ve never see anything like it in my life. We sat as the entire A list world, and then some made its way to Ali’s table.

I’d thought I’d share this with you as a small tribute to a giant of a man. I’m looking at my hand now, the hand that shook his.

Goodbye Papa. A conscious black man who conquered the world. May the ancestors and Allah embrace you as one of the finest sons of Islam and humanity. Rest in perfect power.

NB. Im currently on the road organising  PAC45 Foundation  with others in Manchester so don’t have access to my older picture file. If you have pictures of me with Ali I’d love to have them. Feel free to post. I’ll post some of mine when I get home.

May he be blessed for all eternity #Inshalla