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Black Community Opinions

Local Voices: Letter To My 11-Year-Old Grandson

By Sean C. Bowers

Today the Greatest died – Muhammad Ali. He was the greatest for many reasons, but first and foremost, he stood for himself; and when need be, by himself, against all others. Those same others who persecute those different from them for sick profit and who have done so for centuries under slavery. He made the world know him, see him, hear him and feel him. From age 12 until Ali was 22, he formed his body into his “physical” weapon. He became a gold medalist in the 1960 Olympic Games and the boxing heavyweight champion of the world.

From age 23 through age 42, Ali alone changed himself from Clay to Ali. Forging and forming his “Spiritual” weapon of “Love” and non-violence against yet another imperialist white war waged against more world brothers of another color. The world won; we and he won, in and out of the ring. From age 43 until his death at 74, Ali battled Parkinson’s, gaining the just due respect of all, even White America. Ali used the “Mental” weapon of his mind he sharpened to win over his enemies to become a world hero.

You have the gift of size and strength like Ali and me. Make sure you are the protector of justice and the vulnerable in need. Use your formidable size and strength as I have done and as Ali did for the betterment of all, not just for yourself. Fear not as you follow in brave new bold footsteps along your life’s path. Fight, not in the ring like Ali, but on the court for every loose ball and rebound like me, and as you said, you wanted to do on your way to becoming a college basketball player. Play within the rules, but always play to win every time you step on the court. Never let anyone out-work or hustle you. Fear none, but respect all.

To be honest, it will take 5,000 hours of practice to start on your high school team. It will take 10,000 hours to be a college full scholarship player. It is not something that happens overnight. It literally takes hundreds of thousands of muscle memory jumpers, floaters, dribbling, drives, dunks, rebounds, defensive slides, running and a heart like Ali’s that kept on beating 30 minutes after the rest of his body passed on. Make your heart and mind your most powerful tools you can always tap into, when and while others tap out.

To overcome adversity like you have had, like Ali had, like I had, you must hunger first, and thirst second for the change in your situation that only your hard work four – six hours a day can bring, will bring, does bring. The type of work required on you, your body, your mind, your mental toughness, will become the indomitable spirit of you, like me and Ali, because of your willingness to work, by yourself, on yourself.

Take the time to get to know how much you really have to offer the world. Become one with that mission – that sense of purpose. Use your gifts to accumulate and articulate poetic knowledge, to get an education which leads to choices, power, opportunities and earning potential. Make your athletic career the vehicle you use to amass experience and grace. Show others by example, not by loudness, let your game speak volumes and the respect will follow.

Through your hard work – the needed, required work that must be done on yourself – always find the inner joy, the joy of being alive and fit, the joy of being a winner and a difference maker, the joy that comes from the smile or happiness you bring to another. Make your life’s work your joyful artful play. Be a man who plays for fun and plays hard like a kid, but always remember your inner kid. Be there when you’re supposed to be, when you said you would; be early, stay late, show you love the work, like air and oxygen you breathe. Be the hardest worker on all your teams and whenever you step in the classroom or on the court.

Have no regrets, knowing you did your best; you made the game and life better because you were here. When things are hard and you feel alone, always remember you are never alone, and that you always have Ali and me. I can’t ever tell you or show you how to be Black; but, you can start by being proud, standing tall, head held high like Ali. Be your greatest, and know that you are loved.

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Shoot for the stars, Stay out of and from behind bars,
Willingly pass to each life teammate,
sharing in all the championships that await,
Use your physical, spiritual and mental gifts, to uplift,
Be the answer to the question,
Because of your love of knowledge’s digestion,
Own your destiny, you manifest,
by doing and being your best,
Speak your mind sparked like jumper cables,
in poetically posed prozen parables,
Always remember to be the best you can be,
and you are never alone, because you’ll always have Ali and me.

Love, Grandpa Sean

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