My father was a fan of boxing, and he loved Muhammad Ali.
As Daddy’s little girl I was stuck to him like a magnet, so there was no question in anyone’s mind that I’d also be a boxing fan and rooting as enthusiastically as he did for Muhammad Ali.
Although I didn’t even like stepping on an ant, I was mesmerized by this man who danced back and forth in the ring saying, “I’m the greatest,” or “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” My tiny fists would alternate between shadow boxing with him, and egging him on to knock out his opponent. And that was how it remained as my father grew older and I grew up, too big for his lap, but never too big for his arm draped around me as we sat together on the couch.
One thing I’ve realized about the great sportsman and humanitarian, Muhammad Ali, is that he influenced me in a positive way. Gender should never be a prerequisite for whom we hope our children emulate, or will be inspired by. Everyone needs a role model, and Muhammad Ali was mine.
There are so many lessons girls can learn from the late Muhammad Ali to help them stay capable and strong:
1 | I am the greatest.
Teach girls to never be ashamed to say they’re the greatest, to shout it loud and proud, speak it vehemently through their lips, and feel it in their heart even when others think they aren’t.
Knowing they’re great will encourage them to do great things and bask in the freedom of accomplishment. Growing up, too many of us were often told that excessive pride was not a good character trait for girls.
That’s wrong. If we want our girls to write their names in the sky they must know they can – and should – stand in their own glorious power.
2 | Talk smack.
Muhammad Ali talked smack, but he also backed it up. Our girls need to know it’s alright to talk smack every now and then.
Girls need to make others see, and understand, that they’re a force to be reckoned with. And to protect themselves against the elements of sexism and discrimination. They must find and claim that extra bit of inspiration to finish the last leg of any race.
3 | Leave it in the ring.
Muhammad Ali left his blood, sweat, and tears in the boxing ring. He was focused and didn’t let anyone or anything deter him.
Girls need to know that when they’re doing something – whether it’s a spelling bee, a science competition, or an audition – they need to leave it all in the ring.
They have to believe in their potential power, creativity, and skills. They have to believe that perseverance and giving their all makes anything possible.
4 | Learn to do the rope-a-dope.
The rope-a-dope is a style of boxing associated with Muhammad Ali in which one opponent intentionally puts him or herself in what appears to be a losing position, attempting thereby to become the ultimate victor.
All girls need to learn how to maneuver themselves out of tight spaces to become the victor. They need to learn strategy; they need to know that appearing to an opponent as though they’re losing steam is an important tactic for catching their breath, regrouping, and pressing on unerringly to triumph.
5 | Do the Ali shuffle (keep dancing).
Girls need to learn as they move through this world, they need to keep dancing.
They need to dance to celebrate their bodies because no matter what shape or size they are, or disability they may have, their bodies are a work of art – a unique masterpiece. Girls need to dance to hush those who shame them through malicious comments.
Just as with laughter, they need to know that dancing fancy and free will release feel good endorphins. They should know that this is not only for their physical well-being, but for their emotional health as well, so they’re strong enough to TKO anything attempting to obscure their shimmer-shine.
6 | Never back down from controversy or beliefs.
Muhammad Ali was willing to go to jail and lose his livelihood for what he believed.
Our girls need to know that their voices count. They’re never too young to be an advocate, demand justice, and have their rights and passions respected even if they go against the grain.
7 | Be a humanitarian.
Muhammad Ali treated all people – no matter their race or creed – humanely. He shared a sense of hope for a better world and did his part to cultivate that hope, even through his debilitating disease, even when he could only express it through his eyes and his heart.
Girls must also know that whether it’s through school, or social media, they can raise awareness about humanitarian causes no matter how great or small. They can participate in food drives, start a hashtag to stop bullying, take on body shaming, volunteer, paint a mural with an inspiring message of hope, or plant a tree for a cause.
Girls need to know that they have the power, the grace, the intellect, and the ability to create a better world, all while adding their own unique touch.