Well the sunny days of summer are upon us, and I’m ready for another festive July full of fireworks and flags on the Fourth and later for the Three Rivers Festival. Downtown Fort Wayne has become such a happening place with so many spots for outdoor recreation, like the ballpark, new restaurants with patio dining, the Old Fort and Rivergreenway paths that now connect up to Waynedale’s bike trails. Even though June was National Great Outdoors Month, I feel like this year’s fun in the summer sun is only just beginning now.
While this past June was a beautiful month, it was made bittersweet for me by the passing of one of my favorite people, athlete and activist Muhammad Ali. Ali, who was born Cassius Clay in 1942, was only a few years ahead of me, but I always considered him one of my heroes. In his physical prime Ali was World Heavyweight Champion, a boxer who could “float like a butterfly, and sting like a bee.” He was powerful, graceful and proud, and when other athletes were letting their managers do all their talking to the press, Ali spoke for himself in a language that was a precursor to today’s Rap and Hip Hop. Not only was he ahead of his time in his style of speaking, he made it fashionable to boast, to show off, to brag about oneself. I’m reminded of the American poet, Walt Whitman by these words of Ali’s: I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.
Muhammad Ali was not just proud, not a ‘big I/little u’ kind of man—he reached out to children and to people in need. Ali was an activist in many arenas and fought till the end to see that all people received fair and just treatment. For example, he helped the United States negotiate for hostages. He once succeeded in talking a man, intent on jumping, down from a ninth-story window ledge. In his later years he joined forces with Michael J. Fox and became a champion for sufferers of Parkinson’s, a disease that he lived with for the last thirty-three years of his life. These were just a few of his accomplishments on the social front.
As I watched the funeral procession and service in his native Louisville, Kentucky I could see what I had already known about Muhammad Ali, that he was loved, by the people that he came from and by people from all over the world. I, for one, will miss him.
In my travels about town this summer I hope to see many friends, family members and constituents at the parks, festivals and fireworks. We may have passed June, but I see that July is National Ice Cream Month. Sounds like a good excuse to head out, stop the ice cream truck, and enjoy a cool treat in the shade of a tree somewhere.
However you do it, make it a happy summer, all summer, in the great outdoors.
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