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Posts Tagged ‘Humanitarians’

Remembering the Tragic Death of a Princess

Princess Diana was perhaps the most famous, most popular woman in the world. She was a picture of grace and beauty. She was a role model to millions, as both a member of royalty and as an active contributor to many humanitarian efforts.

Princess Diana Research Topic

Princess Diana Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

And then, suddenly, she was gone. On August 31, 1997, she passed away after a car crash in a road tunnel in Paris, France.

She was born Diana Francis Spencer on July 1, 1961, and became Lady Diana Spencer after her father, John, inherited the title of Earl Spencer in 1975. She officially became a Princess after marrying Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, in 1981. Her two sons, William and Harry, were born in 1982 and 1984, respectively.

Prince William Research Topic

Prince William Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Prince Harry Research Topic

Prince Harry Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

So much of Diana’s life can be used to educate and inspire students, (i.e., her remarkable life and her ascension to British royalty.) But perhaps even more intriguing was her devotion to several humanitarian causes, such as her fight against the use of landmines.

Princess Diana also dedicated much time and energy to visiting AIDS patients, helping to remove the widespread fear of touching those who are HIV positive. She was also Patron of The Leprosy Mission for England and Wales, and was known to visit with the homeless.

Peruse eLibrary for all of the aforementioned topics, as well as material related to other facets of a life truly well-lived.

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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.