At a time when the United States celebrates Independence Day and there is much discussion about freedom, I am posting a reminder that we are free regardless of what another may think, say or do.
“I know where I’m going and I know the truth, and I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free free to be what I want.” Muhammad Ali
I have never been a boxing fan. However, that did not stop me from recognizing the contributions that Muhammad Ali made to the African American community. I can remember watching him as a child on television rhyming and joking with Howard Cosell. There is a faint memory of all the attention around the Thrilla in Manila. I did not learn of his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War until much later. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund for which I worked years later as an attorney early in my legal career represented him in the case that reversed his conviction for what was then a controversial stance. He made the choice to risk losing everything in order to be free to be what he wanted to be: a Muslim who would not go to war against a country with whom he had no quarrel. His stance would prove prescient. Others would follow his lead and question the Vietnam War.
To follow one’s own truth as Ali did requires a level of courage and self-confidence that can only come from deep within. It comes from a place of deep trust in oneself. That trust leads to actions that are in alignment with the vision and truth that comes from within. As Ali said, true freedom is knowing who we are, what is true for us and living from that truth no matter what anyone else may think or say. Freedom, ultimately, is a state of mind that is available to all regardless of our physical reality. But, it is not something that comes out of thin air.
It has always been ironic to me that a man who was so verbal and who could rhyme and rap before it became popular over time became almost mute. He was not silenced but could no longer express himself in the colorful, direct and, sometimes, comical, way that he had earlier in his life. He lived with Parkinson’s disease for thirty years and continued to engage with the outside world and speak out despite his physical limitations. He continued to express the freedom that he accepted for himself but did so in another way. Ali is quoted as saying that “[t]he man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” Ali, who was a man who admitted he made mistakes, learned from his experiences and became a symbol of love and goodwill around the world. Muhammad Ali did not waste his life despite his illness but rather lived a life of courage and resilience that serves as an example for people around the world