Flower

Chronic Absenteeism:
Why It Matters and How to Fight It

My no-nonsense parents had no patience for illness let alone truancy. School attendance was required; sickness was just another brick-heavy textbook in my backpack. But in the fifth grade, savage bacteria fought for my liberty. I thought I caught the bubonic plague, so I went to the school nurse. Diagnosis: fever, no plague. My mother had to pick me up—nurse’s orders. I was free, even though it only led to soup and sleep.

Bueller?… Bueller?… Bueller?…

My early dismissal wasn’t exactly Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this month. In that film, Bueller skips school, “borrows” a Ferrari, tours Chicago, and outwits every adult. Even adults can recognize the appeal in that scenario. Being absent once in a while is liberating. No big deal, right?

Adding It All Up

As it turns out, absences add up fast. According to a recent U.S. Department of Education (DOE) report, truancy is endemic. Thirteen percent of U.S. students, 1 in 8, are chronically absent, which is defined as missing at least 15 days of school a year. High school students are the worst offenders: nearly 1 in 5 is chronically absent. Minority students also have higher rates of chronic absenteeism.

Why It Matters

Ferris Bueller is a career truant. Does it matter, really? It does, actually. The same DOE report cites studies finding that truancy causes students to fall behind in important areas like reading. Chronic absenteeism also indicates a greater likelihood of dropping out. And consequences may extend into adulthood: truancy and dropping out lead to poorer health outcomes and increased chances of going through the criminal justice system.

What We Can Do

If Ferris Bueller proves anything, it’s that truancy beats economics class. But—other than not sounding like Ben Stein—there are some things educators can do to curb chronic absenteeism.

  • Collect individualized data. Use data to identify which students are chronically absent.
  • Engage students and parents. Awareness matters. Sometimes students and parents simply don’t realize how quickly absences have added up.
  • Dig deeper. Ask a student or parent what’s going on. Some reasons are more serious: illness, family responsibilities, housing troubles, unstable home environments, insufficient transportation, bullying, personal safety concerns, and culture are just a few reasons that lead to absences.
  • Find solutions. More serious problems aren’t easily fixable, but identifying them is the first step toward finding solutions.

Avoiding absences altogether is impossible. Sometimes fifth graders spike fevers. And sometimes the Ferris Bueller’s of the world declare, “How could I possibly be expected to handle school on a day like this?” Too often, though, we dismiss the adverse consequences of truancy, but it’s no joke. Curbing chronic absenteeism now will help students become successful adults. It’s within our power to at least try.

How does your school fight chronic absenteeism?

Share your thoughts with us on Twitter #ProQuest or in the comments below.

Why Playing Guitar This Summer Can Teach You About Science

Having Fun with Music

Summer is a great time to have fun and learn something at the same time. For those days when the heat is just too much, staying inside can be good for practicing a hobby or starting something new. Have you always dreamed of songwriting? What about playing guitar? Learning a new instrument or writing a song may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. There are tons of resources online that can not only teach you how to do these things but also help with understanding the science behind music.

Link Between Music and Science

There’s a whole lot of science happening in the process of making music! From the vibrations of guitar strings to creating melodies and harmonies, you can pick up a lot about physics just from plucking or strumming notes. Once you start experimenting with your chosen instrument, it becomes easier to see why music is a helpful tool in education. Maybe that’s why it’s easier to remember facts when they are incorporated into a clever song.

This short TED-Ed animated lesson by Oscar Fernando Perez and Chris Boyle illustrates just how much you can learn about physics through playing the guitar.

So, the next time you see a guitar imagine how its parts work together to create the sounds you hear, the vibrations you feel and the melodies and rhythms you play. Science is all around us! And it doesn’t have to stop just because it’s summer.

Resources Online

Here’s a short list of some interesting videos to watch on the connection between music, science, the brain, and even spiders.

The Science Behind the Arts: The Maths Behind Music
How playing an instrument benefits your brain
Spiders Tune Their Webs Like A Guitar 

Are you learning something musical this summer? Write us in the comments below or Tweet us at #ProQuest. We’d love to know!

Bowie, Merle & Prince: Gone, but Not Forgotten

The year 2016, though not even halfway completed, has been an especially harsh one on musical pioneers. Several gifted singers and instrumental geniuses have passed away this year. Let’s put a final spotlight on three of them.

David Bowie, who died January 10 at the age of 69, was a singer, songwriter, actor and record producer, renowned for his innovative style and his alter ego, Ziggy Stardust.

David Bowie Research Topic

David Bowie Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Country music legend Merle Haggard passed away on April 6–his birthday–at the age of 79. Haggard rose from a rocky, difficult childhood to become one of the most beloved country performers of all time.

Merle Haggard Research Topic

Merle Haggard Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Prince, born Prince Rogers Nelson, died unexpectedly at the age of 57 on April 21. He had a flamboyant stage presence, became an expert at multiple instruments, and was perhaps best known for his classic album (and movie), Purple Rain.

Prince Research Topic

Prince Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

The music and memories that these three created will live on in the hearts of millions of fans.

Here is just a partial list of additional musicians, actors, athletes, etc. who have left us in 2016:

Abe Vigoda

Alan Rickman

Dan Haggerty

Dave Mirra

Garry Shandling

Glenn Frey

Gordie Howe

Harper Lee

Maurice White

Monte Irvin

Morley Safer

Muhammad Ali

Patty Duke

Hibiscus Tea: an African Tradition

Enjoy a good cup of hibiscus tea? You’re not alone. This tart, red herbal tea can be found all over Africa–from Côte d’Ivoire to Sudan. The hibiscus plant (Hibiscus sabdariffa), commonly known as roselle, has been used for hundreds of years in beverages and traditional medicines in various regions of Africa.

Dried Hibiscus in Aswan souk (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

In North Africa and the Sahel region, hibiscus tea is popular as a hot or cold drink, and is usually sweetened with sugar. Hibiscus iced tea, known as karkadé in Egypt, is sold by numerous street vendors in Cairo. In Sudan, hibiscus tea is commonly served to guests. However, Sudanese generally prefer to soak the hibiscus flowers in cold water for two days, rather than boil them (as in Egypt), a method that some believe makes the tea more flavorful.

In West Africa, hibiscus tea (known as bissap) is popular in countries like Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal–especially iced and sweetened with sugar. Here, as in Egypt, bissap is a popular drink sold by street vendors; on the beaches in Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, vendors sell the drink iced or frozen, and often in plastic bags. In West Africa, bissap is often flavored with fresh mint leaves or ginger. Below is a recipe for bissap from our Côte d’Ivoire country report. Enjoy!

Jus de Bissap

Karkadeh, Kerma, Sudan (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Hibiscus Juice/Iced Tea

Ingredients

1 cup dried red hibiscus flowers

1.5 liters water

A few fresh mint leaves (optional)

1 cup super-fine sugar 

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Rinse the hibiscus flowers and put them in a pot with the water.
  2. Cover the pot, bring the water to a boil, and let simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Remove the liquid from the heat and add the mint leaves. Let steep for 10 minutes.
  4. Pour through a strainer into another bowl to separate the flowers and mint from the liquid.
  5. Add the sugar and vanilla extract and mix with a wooden spoon.
  6. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and serve cold.

Hint

This drink may also be flavored with a combination of 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 teaspoon orange blossom extract, or with a combination of 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 teaspoon strawberry extract. The mint leaves are optional but are commonly added.

This Day in History: Mount Pinatubo Erupts (June 15, 1991)

Twenty-five years ago, on June 15, 1991, Mount Pinatubo, located on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, erupted after being dormant for 600 years. Before the eruption, Mount Pinatubo was covered with tropical vegetation and was home to more than 30,000 people who lived in villages on its slopes. Thousands of other people lived in the valleys surrounding the volcano, including 14,000 US military personnel and their families stationed at Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Station.

First Explosive Eruption on June 12, 1991

First Explosive Eruption on June 12, 1991 [public domain]
via U.S. Geological Survey

Huge avalanches of searing hot ash, gas, and pumice fragments roared down the sides of Mount Pinatubo, filling once-deep valleys with fresh volcanic deposits as much as 660 feet thick. The eruption removed so much magma and rock from below the volcano that the summit collapsed to form a large volcanic depression, known as a caldera, 1.6 miles across. More than 350 people died during the eruption, most of them from collapsing roofs. Even more devastating than the eruption were the flows of water and debris that resulted when monsoon rains mixed with the accumulated volcanic ash. Disease that broke out in evacuation camps and the continuing mud flows in the area caused additional deaths, bringing the total death toll to 722 people.

Fortunately, geologists from the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology and the United States Geological Survey had been monitoring the volcano since early April, when earthquakes and an explosion opened up a line of vents and fissures on the side of the mountain. The scientists were able to accurately predict the timing of the eruption and its effects. As a result, the Philippine government and the American military were able to carry out a timely evacuation of the population, saving thousands of lives and millions of dollars in property damage.

Summit Caldera, As Seen August 1, 1991, from the Northeast

Summit Caldera, As Seen August 1, 1991, from the Northeast
(T.J. Casadevall/U.S. Geological Survey) [public domain]

The impact of the eruption lasted long after the initial explosion. The volcano had ejected an estimated 15-20 million tons of sulfur dioxide and ash particles more than 22 miles high into the stratosphere, forming a cloud over the entire earth. Over the next 15 months, scientists measured a drop in the average global temperature of about 1 degree F. The eruption also contributed to ozone depletion–the ozone layer hole over the South Pole reached its largest size yet recorded when observed in 1992, the year following the eruption. Mount Pinatubo is considered the second largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century.

Today, the site is a tourist spot, attracting more than 3,000 visitors each month, who climb and hike near the volcano, enjoying the beauty of the caldera lake created 25 years ago during the eruption.

SIRS Leading Issue: Natural Disasters

SIRS Leading Issue: Natural Disasters
by ProQuest LLC via ProQuest SIRS Issues Researcher

For more information on volcanic eruptions, as well as other natural disasters like hurricanes, avalanches, forest fires, floods, droughts, tsunamis and earthquakes, explore SIRS Issues Researcher’s Leading Issues feature on Natural Disasters. Like each one of the over 335 SIRS Leading Issues, the Natural Disasters Leading Issue contains an overview of the issue, a timeline, statistics and an Essential Question with answers and supporting viewpoint articles. Resources are hand-selected by ProQuest editors from more than 2,000 national and international sources–including newspaper and magazine articles, graphics, charts, maps, primary sources, government documents, websites, and multimedia to support comprehension of the pros, cons and everything in-between.

The Stonewall Riots and the Birth of Gay Liberation

Stonewall Inn, Greenwich Village, New York City, 2011 [Credit: InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA, Creative Commons Attribution – Share Alike Generic 2.0 license] [via Wikimedia Commons]

Peace, love, and condemnation

We generally consider the 1960s in the United States as an era of peace and love. But the homosexual communities during this decade were commonly condemned by mainstream society.

Homosexuality was still classified as a “mental disorder” by the American Psychiatric Association. Police raids were conducted in establishments known to be “gay-friendly.” Homosexual acts were illegal, and many people were arrested for engaging in them. Some were fined; others were sentenced to long prison terms–even lifetime sentences. There were not many places where a gay man or woman could be open about their sexuality. Countless lesbians and gays lived “in the closet,” an existence in which they could not express their true selves.

The year was 1969

Stonewall Inn, Greenwich Village, 2011 [Credit: InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA, Creative Commons Attribution - Share Alike Generic 2.0 license], [via Wikimedia Commons]

Stonewall Inn, site of the 1969 Stonewall riots, New York City [Credit: InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA, CC BY-SA 3.0] [via Wikimedia Commons]

During the 1960s, New York City was home to the largest gay population in the country. The city was also considered to be one of the most aggressive against this alternative culture.

As the night of June 27 turned to June 28, in the year 1969, the New York City police conducted what they thought would be a routine raid at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. Previous raids always resulted in arrests and not much opposition from the bar’s patrons.

Not on this night.

On this 1969 summer night, the gay liberation movement was born.

Out of the melee, pride emerges

In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, gay patrons, regularly harassed by the New York City police, took a stand. Word of the demonstration spread and many joined the riot at the Stonewall Inn. Protests broke out throughout the city. They continued for days, despite police attempts to control the crowds. Shouts of “gay power” and singing of “We Shall Overcome” rang through the streets.

The Stonewall riots inspired local and national dialogue about gay civil rights. Very soon after the riots, a gay advocacy group in NYC was formed and a newspaper was launched. In commemoration of the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the first gay pride parades were held in Greenwich Village, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Two years after the riots, nearly every major U.S. city had established a gay-rights organization. And in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses.

Nearly five decades later…

Forty-seven years after the Stonewall riots, the gay liberation movement has evolved to encompass the civil rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people. Incredible strides have been made in the LGBT movement:

In 2000, Vermont became the first U.S. state to legalize civil unions between same-sex couples; four years later, Massachusetts was the first to legalize gay marriage. A June 2015 Supreme Court decision legalized same-sex marriage in all states, a huge victory for the LGBT movement.

What constituted a hate crime in the United States was expanded in 2009 to include crimes motivated by the victim’s gender, sexual orientation or identity or disability. 

In 2011, the Obama administration addressed the United Nations and announced that LGBT rights are “one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time” and that the country would support international efforts promoting LGBT rights.

Transgender rights  became a mainstream issue after the turn of the century and quickly picked up momentum. By 2013, two major federal rulings advanced equal opportunity employment for transgender people. The year 2013 also heralded further progress in the struggle for transgender rights: California enacted the first U.S. law protecting transgender students, and the American Psychiatric Association eliminated its diagnosis “gender identity disorder.”

June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month, otherwise known as LGBT Pride Month. It was established in honor of the 1969 Stonewall Riots. It is a time of celebration, commemoration, and remembrance: a celebration of living freely, openly, and honestly; a commemoration of all that the LGBT community has contributed and what the LGBT rights movement has accomplished; and a remembrance of members of the LGBT community who lost their lives to hate crimes or HIV/AIDS.

Join SKS and its June Spotlight of the Month in honoring LGBT Pride Month. Learn about the history of the gay rights movement and follow its path as it is forged in the United States and many countries around the world.

“The Stonewall riot may have been the start of a civil rights movement, but it was not the beginning of our history.” ― Tom Cardamone, author, and activist

Prelude to Little Bighorn: Battle of the Rosebud

In the end, it may not have mattered for Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer. On June 16, 1876, 30 miles southeast of, and eight days before the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Brigadier General George Crook and his column crossed over the Tongue River, a river that Crazy Horse warned Crook not to cross. They were en route to Rosebud Creek where he suspected that Sitting Bull and his village were encamped. At Rosebud Creek, Crook and his men encountered and fought to a stalemate Crazy Horse and his Sioux/Cheyenne confederacy. Afterwards, instead of marching northward to join Custer at the Little Bighorn, Crook’s troops retired to their Goose Creek encampment. Could Crook and his troops have made the difference at the Battle of the Little Bighorn? Could they have turned the corner of that battle and won the day for Custer and his men? And just what were these battles, which were part of the larger Sioux Wars, all about, anyway?

In 1868, the U.S. government signed a treaty (Sioux Treaty of 1868) which acknowledged that the Indians owned approximately 125,000 square miles of land from the Black Hills in western South Dakota down to northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana. These lands were the historic buffalo hunting grounds of the Sioux, Cheyenne, and other Plains Indians. In the treaty, the government promised protection against any encroachment by the white settlers of the United States. But after gold was found in the Black Hills by an expedition led by Custer in 1874 miners began flooding the region with no regard to the treaty. The government decided to renegotiate the treaty, but the Sioux and Cheyenne would have none of it. The Sioux had heard these promises before. When they refused to renegotiate, the U.S. Army was given orders to force them onto an even smaller reservation.

Fast forward to June 17, 1876. Crook was given orders to engage the Indians at Rosebud Creek, and then move north to join the convergent forces of General Alfred Terry (with Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer), and Colonel John Gibbon to force the Indians onto a reservation. Crook believed wrongly that Sitting Bull’s village was camped out on the Rosebud, and he had orders to engage and destroy it. If he had come three days earlier, he would have encountered the village where they had engaged in a Sun Dance, and where it was reported that Sitting Bull had a vision of “soldiers falling into his camp like grasshoppers from the sky.” Instead, they encountered Crazy Horse and a smaller, but still large band of Sioux and Cheyenne. The battle lasted for six hours. When the fighting was over, it was at best a Pyrrhic victory for Crook and his men; they retained the ground on which they fought, but they had to retreat back to their encampment at Goose Creek near present-day Sheridan, Wyoming to tend to their wounded and give rest to a battle-worn column. Crook claimed victory but military historians now view the battle as a victory for Crazy Horse and his men, and a prelude to the triumph at Little Bighorn a week later. Could Crook and his men have tipped the scales at Little Bighorn had they not retreated to Goose Creek after the battle on Rosebud Creek? Of the three federal forces, Crook’s was the largest with over 1,000 men. But would it have made a difference?

You can explore this question and more in eLibrary. Research topics such as the Great Sioux Wars, including Battle of the Rosebud and Battle of the Little Bighorn, and the United States Westward expansion, which contributed to the disputes in the Plains and the Black Hills. There are ProQuest Research Topics on Battle of the Rosebud, Crazy Horse, and General George Crook, as well as a host of other topics and resources associated with the battle listed below.

Research Topics:

Battle of the Little Bighorn
Battle of the Rosebud
Crazy Horse
George Armstrong Custer
George Crook
Sioux Wars
Sitting Bull

Related Browse Topics:

American Expansionism
Great Sioux War/Black Hills War

Native American History

CultureGrams: Ramadan Recipes

iftar_oman

Iftar in Oman

Last week, June 5, was the beginning of Ramadan, a holy month during which observant Muslims worldwide fast from sunrise to sunset. Meals are eaten in the mornings before the sun rises and in the evenings when it sets. The traditional fast breaking in the evening during Ramadan is called iftar, and Muslims usually gather as friends and family to eat an evening meal. Food is also given to the poor. Although it is a tradition to break the fast with dates, customary foods eaten in the evenings during Ramadan vary by country.

CultureGrams has recipes for some of these typical Ramadan foods, including bourek (stuffed pastry rolls) from Algeria, kunafeh (a dessert) from Egypt, raqaq (a very thin bread) from the United Arab Emirates, and gulha (fried fish balls) from the Maldives.

Another of the CultureGrams Ramadan recipes is for harira (a lentil and chickpea soup). It is the traditional meal eaten in Morocco to break the fast during Ramadan and is usually served with dates, figs, and special sweets called chabakiya.

Check out the CultureGrams recipe for harira below! It’s making us hungry!

Ingredients

Broth:
1 pound lamb, cut in small pieces
1 small onion, minced
1 cup chickpeas, soaked overnight (or from a can)
2 pounds canned crushed tomatoes
2 quarts water
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
6 to 7 strands saffron (soaked in a few tablespoons of hot water)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon pepper
2/3 teaspoon ginger
1 cube bouillon (optional)
Salt

Other ingredients:
1/3 cup lentils
1/2 lemon
1/4 cup rice
1/4 cup broken up angel hair pasta
1/3 cup minced fresh cilantro
Salt
3 tablespoons flour
1 egg

Directions

  1. Cook the lentils in salted water. When done, drain them and squeeze the lemon over them. Set aside.
  2. Cook all of the broth ingredients in a soup pot over low heat for 50 to 60 minutes, or enough time to cook the meat and the chickpeas.
  3. Add the rice, pasta, cilantro, and salt. Allow to simmer another 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Mix the flour with a little water to form a paste and then add this to the soup a little bit at a time; stir constantly to avoid lumps.
  5. Add the lentils and let cook for another 5 minutes. Harira should be creamy but not thick. If it is thick, add water and cook for a few more minutes; if it is too thin, thicken with more flour-and-water paste.
  6. If desired, break an egg into the soup during the last 5 minutes of cooking and mix it well to keep it liquid.
  7. Serve in bowls with lemon wedges on the side for those who want to add it to their soup.
Harira. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Harira. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

STEM Education Invites Summer Science

Educational interpretations and implementations of STEM–an acronym for the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics–are as varied as the fields of study themselves. Only one thing is clear: the general consensus of educators and educational professionals is that STEM education can provide enormous benefits for students.

Photo credit: opensourceway / Foter / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: opensourceway / Foter / CC BY-SA

 

How could it not? In 2009, the Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) report showed that U.S. high-school students were ranked 18th in math scores and 13th in science scores. Thirty-four nations participated, so these results were troubling. So troubling, in fact, that–in seeming response to the PISA rankings–the White House issued numerous reports on the significance of STEM education and allocated funding toward STEM initiatives and programs. In 2010, President Obama set a goal of increasing teachers’ and students’ proficiency in STEM fields of study.

President Barack Obama hosts the Science Fair at the State Dining Room of the White House, held for winners of a broad range of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) competitions. <br />Credit: Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy [Public Domain], via ProQuest SIRS Government Reporter

President Barack Obama hosts the Science Fair at the State Dining Room of the White House, held for winners of a broad range of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) competitions. Credit: Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy [Public Domain], via ProQuest SIRS Government Reporter

So the question became…how? There are, of course, no easy answers. Possible solutions continue to be pondered, discussed, argued, and carried out in classrooms. Some things have worked, others haven’t. Thus is the evolution of education.

We at ProQuest applaud the efforts toward comprehensive STEM education and celebrate the national attention it has engendered. One goal of STEM education is to instill a sense of curiosity and exploration in students. This goal is one shared by ProQuest and its K-12 products.

Join us this summer in celebration of STEM education and its practice and growth in the United States. STEM disciplines are prominently featured on SIRS Discoverer–our product for young researchers–in its Science topic tree and in Science Fair Explorer. SIRS Issues Researcher offers a number of STEM-related topics in its Leading Issues database, such as Alternative Energy Sources, Biomedical Technology, Genetic Engineering, Nuclear Energy, Ozone Depletion, Space Exploration and Travel, and Technology. Click on any of these topics for up-to-date articles and information. And in the SIRS Discoverer Spotlight of the Month for June, Summer Science Projects, we encourage students to see the science, technology, engineering, and math that surrounds them through hands-on activities. Everyone can be a scientist! STEM is all around us…the night sky, a frog’s call, a blooming flower, a car’s engine, an Internet transmission, a deep breath…STEM at work.

If we can impress upon one student the joy of seeing science, technology, engineering, and math all around, we have done our jobs.

My Hour with The Greatest

In the summer of 1987, on a blazing hot and humid Sunday morning around 8 a.m., while attending the University of Louisville, I was walking alone toward the campus student center to have a bit of breakfast, catch up with friends, and study for a while. Although it was early Sunday morning and it was during the summer session of classes when most students aren’t in school, the campus still seemed strangely deserted. There was not a soul anywhere that I could see. As I made my way through the Quad onto the oblong roundabout that circled in front of the student center, I saw a step van parked along the street with a man sitting on the back of it, all alone, and a stack of books behind him in the back of the van. As I neared the van it began to dawn on me that I was looking at one of my childhood heroes, Muhammad Ali. I thought, “what, are you kidding me?” My eyes glazed over. I was shell shocked. My first thought was “what was a man like him doing here sitting alone on the back of a van early on a Sunday morning?” My initial knee-jerk reaction was to turn around and walk the other way. How was I going to act? And, for that matter, what was I going to say to him? I imagined myself going into some kind of Jackie Gleason/Ralph Kramden character stuttering to spit out the words.

As a child growing up in the 1960s, like a lot of kids from the Louisville area, I revered Muhammad Ali. I vividly remember sitting next to the radio with my father listening to the round-by-round reports of Ali’s first monumental bout with Sonny Liston. That was when he was known as Cassius Clay. Shortly after that fight with Liston, Ali converted to Islam and changed his name. In his subsequent fights with both Floyd Patterson and Ernie Terrell they each taunted him for his conversion and name change and refused to call him by his Muslim name. He defeated both. Four years later after the Terrell fight, and after he had been banned from fighting and was stripped of his title due to his refusal to enter the draft for the Vietnam War, I listened to (and years later watched) all three bouts against Joe Frazier, and the ultimate boxing match against George Foreman in the famous “Rumble in the Jungle.” After Ali upset Foreman, when no one gave him any chance, it only added to his legend.

Of course, as it turned out, prize fighting and his subsequent celebrity became only a part of Muhammad’s life, and ultimately proved to be a platform for the main causes of his life: Islam, justice, humanitarianism, and peace. It seems ironic that a man who earned a living beating the daylights out of another man would be well-suited for the cause of peace and justice. But as the great World War II general Douglas McArthur once said, “the soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” Considering Muhammad’s background growing up in segregated Louisville in the 1950s as a young African American, enduring the contempt for his religious conversion, and making comeback after comeback in the boxing ring, among other things, in my mind he was like a soldier. Many older military veterans, especially Vietnam veterans, will take that as an insult because of Ali’s refusal to enter the Vietnam draft. This is understandable. But it is undeniable that Ali’s unwavering religious convictions and social consciousness could not be denied. He was willing to pay the price for his convictions, and he did. He was not only a man of supreme confidence in and out of the ring, but he was also a man of principle and character of the first order. My encounter with Ali on the campus of the University of Louisville that summer day only strengthened that belief.

After my initial fright of seeing Ali in front of me, something kept my pace toward this man sitting alone on the back of that van. I needed to do this. It had been two or three years since Muhammad’s diagnosis for Parkinson’s Disease, so when I walked up and nervously shook his hand we were both shaking while we shook each other’s hand. He smiled and recognized my nervousness right away, pointing to his slightly shaking hand. I introduced myself and immediately told him that I was one of his biggest fans. He reached back and retrieved from the stack of books behind him an Islamic prayer book, which he gave me, and I still have to this day. He proceeded to tell me a little bit about Islam. Right away he made me feel comfortable to be around him, and I finally relaxed. His slowness in speech was apparent, but he was still able to speak quite well. More than anything, the gleam in his eyes told me everything about him: Peace.

So there I sat on the back of a van, at 8 o’clock on a Sunday morning talking with Muhammad Ali for what seemed like an hour, but in reality was probably no more than 10 minutes. Time froze for me, it seemed. We talked about some of his fights, particularly the first Frazier fight and the “Rumble in the Jungle.” We discussed family and the places where we both grew up. Then suddenly, like the lifting of a veil, a small crowd of people appeared and the discussion was over. It was as if I had just woken from a dream. I quickly got up, shook his hand again, told him how grateful I was to meet him, and we said our goodbyes. A swarm of people quickly surrounded him.

Oddly enough, when I first greeted him and we began talking, he started to sign the prayer book for me, but I interrupted him and told him he didn’t have to. At that time in my college career I was in a sort of a strange phase of irreverence for all things celebrity and felt a sort of bravado for looking down at people with fame. I guess I was the typical rebellious college student. When I kindly refused his autograph, he looked at me with a twinkle in his eyes and smiled. I think right then he seemed to have gotten me and tacitly acknowledged what I was saying, even though I didn’t even really know what I was saying. That iconoclastic attitude seemed to have melted away from me immediately after meeting him. But when the crowd swarmed around Ali it was like I was being swept away at sea. I never got him to sign the book and I never got to meet him again.

All these years later, looking back, the most important things that I came away from my encounter with Muhammad Ali was the appreciation of his humanity and how I eventually came to the idea that all people deserve respect, understanding, and compassion regardless of their beliefs, ethnicity, race, or disability. Our discussion about Islam, peace, and kindness toward all people, although brief, eventually served as one of my compass points on how to respect other people’s beliefs, especially to those people who have different ones than mine; which, as it turns out, really aren’t all that different. But our discussion also served as an instructional guide for me, particularly now as Muslims observe this time, their holy month of Ramadan, in understanding those good people who I have encountered over the years who practice the religion of Islam, and those to whom I have been extremely close who have recently found comfort in the Muslim faith. And for that alone, I thank him.