By Derek Lavelle
Muhammad Ali helped the Nation of Islam when he became a member of their religious organization after he upset Sonny Liston in 1964. Up until then the Nation of Islam was made up of people that the typical black middle class people avoided. Mostly the Nation of Islam was viewed by the middle class as a bunch of thugs that espoused hate and white devil rhetoric that was made famous by Malcolm X.
However, all this changed when Ali announced his membership in the Nation of Islam. At first many blacks and well intended whites thought he was throwing his life and his heavyweight title away. The feelings were that he was either crazy or under some kind of mysterious spell and the Nation only wanted his money.
But, the truth is Muhammad Ali etched his place in American history because of the Nation of Islam. In 1967, America, at war with Vietnam, drafted Ali and he became the highest and the most vocal opponent against the war. His reason for not signing up for the draft was the Nation of Islam and their strict teachings against American politics.
When Ali refused induction against the war and was stripped of his heavyweight title along with his passport, he was endeared by billions of people around the world who also were against America's foreign policy. Muhammad Ali became the most recognized face in the world. He became the biggest crossover on the planet. Thanks to Ali others that followed like Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan became globally accepted.
But the truth is Ali could have played it safe and stayed Cassius Clay and went to the Army and entertained troops and remained the heavyweight champion but God had bigger plans for "the greatest of all times." He made him join the Nation of Islam and stand tall against adversity within the Nation of Islam - Malcolm X assassination, and adversity within America - the Vietnam War. Thanks to Muhammad Ali and his courage he helped the Nation of Islam and the Nation of Islam helped him become bigger in life than any person that ever lived.
Derek Lavelle once a promising boxer learned the Nation of Islam story while in a boxing camp named after Muhammad Ali called M.A.P.S (Muhammad Ali Professional Sports). At MAPS in 1981 that Derek met older, original Nation of Islam men that had remained loyal to Elijah Muhammad during Malcolm's exodus.
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