By: Regina McMenamin Lloyd
The world remembers Muhammed Ali as a force to be reckoned with both in the ring, and in life. He passed a few days ago and it marked me with sadness. Admittedly, I have never followed any sport, much less boxing because my family considered it a sport that promoted violence. He was significant as an athlete, a speaker, a community leader and a Civil Rights Advocate. In recent years the Parkinson's Disease that railed his body made it painful to see him suffer. It was with great joy that I got to know a little more about his life by reading The Champ by Tonya Bolden and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie.
In The Champ, Bolden uses creative language to teach, inspire and honor the name of Muhammed Ali.
"Ali! Ali! Ali! People still cheer him today. Ali! Ali! Ali!"
Bolden incorporated every aspect of Muhammad Ali's public life in the textual elements of the story paying homage to the whole life of the man, not just the glory.
All images are used under creative commons law. They are cropped photographic copies that have been cropped of the original published art. All rights of originals held with illustrator R. Gregory Christie.
Honoring The Child
Through story and art, young Cassius Clay is accessible to the young reader. His interest in avoiding rocks works to show the reader his fancy footwork skills are developing. Additionally, it would become another metaphor for his life. His ability to avoid rocks, like punches, like hate-- being thrown at him, never made him stop playing the game.
His boxing career is highlighted by both the amazing records and the flavor of his speech:
"When you come to the fight,
Cassius Clay had a voice. He used it. And in honoring him, Bolden included direct quotes. This gives the reader a closer connection to the man. It helps become a closer cut to Ali's story.
"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!"
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Bolden seemed to tread carefully in depicting the spiritual nature of Ali. She explained he became a member of the Nation of Islam. She explained how he denounced his born name of Cassius Clay and took on the name Mohammad Ali. This was one place where Bolden shined.
"Many people feared and despised the Nation of Islam because it preached that white people were devils. Deep down, The Champ did not see all whites as evil; he hated no one. What he hated was the way many whites treated blacks, from the days of slavery to the days in which he was living.
What Bolden wrote above was important. She wasn't a history re-visionary but she explained the nature of Muhammad Ali's spirit in such a way that later as readers get older they could put into context the information provided. Advocates have to come to terms with the idea that hate was what Ali was fighting against even while considering his words, at times, were not politically correct. He was fighting against the post-slavery-culture oppression that has continually kept African American people from being truly free.
Religious Freedom is a Civil Rights issue. Bolden covers the part of Muhammad Ali's life where he made the decision he would fight against being drafted.
"People called the champ a river of nasty names. Muhammad Ali stood his ground. He believed America had no business in being in Vietnam."
This is one place where I wish Bolden would have gone a step further. Ali said a lot more than:
"I won't go!"
More serious than the $10,000 fine and expected sentence of 5 years. (which Bolden mentions) Ali put his career on the line for the thing he believed in. He was a strong man who refused to let himself be bullied into going against his own conviction. He spoke out against the war and his refusal was pretty clear he had no intention of warring an impoverished people who never hurt him. His war was with the oppression he and other Black people endured at the hands of White racists.
"I would like to say thank you to those of you who think I've lost so much, I have gained everything. I have peace of heart; I have a clear, free conscience. And I 'm proud."
The later years
Then Bolden goes on to tell the story of is return to boxing. His commitment to the children who came to his Deer Lake training camp.
"The bee has not lost his sting, and the butterfly still has his wings."
His speeches about peace between nations and racial peace. She wrote about his generous attention to the needy.
Bolden went on to show the nature of Ali. He was still signing autographs wherever he went.
In the painted illustration to the left R. Gregory Christie depicts Ali signing autographs.
This is what I remember of Ali, where Parkinson's shook his hands and kept him from looking directly at the audience. This image shows perfectly the nature of the man who is initiating change all the while suffering through a disease.
This book could light the torch of knowledge, strength and agility, that helps its future readers to bring about the change for peace. Goodbye Cassius Clay, I hope you find that big red Schwinn in the sky. Goodbye Muhammad Ali, I hope you find the peace there you never got to see on earth. But you tried. You were one of the ones who tried!