“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
~Dr. Martin Luther King
Today, the world stands still to remember a legend. Each mourner of Muhammed Ali’s passing has their own personal story of the day they started to love and/or admire the “greatest of all time”. Yet before Muhammad Ali became a global symbol of peace, courage and athleticism, he was someone else.
Born on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky, Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. was the son of Cassius and Odessa Clay. Over the course of his amazing life, young Cassius worked tirelessly to transform himself from an inner city youth to an Olympic gold medalist; 3-time heavyweight champion; and at the ripe age of 63, Ali became a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. These are just a few of his many accomplishments, yet each signify a lifetime of risk-taking, tough decisions and ultimately lasting influence on the greater society. Yet Ali’s improbable story is so much more.
As a boxer, Ali’s career record was 56 wins (37 knockouts), 5 losses (4 decisions). The breadth of his record alone qualifies him as one of the all-time boxing greats. However, Ali’s life was destined to have greater historical depth of purpose; well outside of sports.
During the 1960’s, the United States was engaged in a polarizing Vietnam War. Positions on the war created divisions in communities, politics, societal classes, age groups and even within families. However, the one unifying truth in regard to the Vietnam War was that when the US Government called you to serve, you must answer that call. “On December 1, 1969, the Selective Service System of the United States conducted two lotteries to determine the order of call to military service in the Vietnam War for men born from 1944 to 1950” 
During that time, Ali was the US boxing champion. He was also a practicing Muslim. The values rooted in his religious beliefs were in conflict against any participation in what he believed was an unjust war. Therefore, “on April 28, 1967, … Ali refuses to be inducted into the U.S. Army and is immediately stripped of his heavyweight title. Ali… cited religious reasons for his decision to forgo military service.”
Listen to Ali in his own words about the Vietnam War.
This was a bold stance against the federal government. The US government decided it would not take no for an answer. After a lengthy fight in public and private, finally “on June 20, 1967, Ali was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000 and banned from boxing for three years. He stayed out of prison as his case was appealed and returned to the ring on October 26, 1970, knocking out Jerry Quarry in Atlanta in the third round.” Four years after the initial conviction, the US Supreme Court overturned his case on June 28, 1971.
For the next several years, Ali fought in some of the greatest boxing fights in sports history. From “The Rumble in the Jungle” to the “Trilla in Manilla’, and countless others, Ali’s feats captured the imagination of the world. After retirement in 1981, Ali spent most of his time doing charitable work, supporting humanitarian efforts and evolving into a world ambassador for peace, empowerment and sports. He also publically practiced the Sunni Islam faith.
In 1984, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease at the age of 42. He remains the most high-profile person to battle this condition. True to form and consistent with the bravado and charm he exhibited during his boxing career, Ali boldly led a very public life even as the condition slowly took away his speech and impacted his body movements. Yet his charisma always shined brightly whenever he smiled.
Only in America could this amazing life story be possible. However, Muhammad Ali is not just an American hero, he is a global icon for the world to share.
G Anthony Knowles
 Muhammad Ali explains his refusal to fight in Vietnam (1967). (2012). Retrieved June 10, 2016, from http://alphahistory.com/vietnamwar/muhammad-ali-refuses-to-fight-1967/#sthash.SJNBlZPl.dpuf
Draft lottery (1969). (n.d.). Retrieved June 11, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Draft_lottery_(1969)
Muhammad Ali refuses Army induction. (n.d.). Retrieved June 11, 2016, from http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/muhammad-ali-refuses-army-induction