BROWN | My chance meeting with "The Champ"
Ali still felt like a historical figure (which he very much is, of course), but for me he didn't feel like the person so many people have described this past week ... that is until today.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- I've been walking around for much of the past week feeling like an outsider since Muhammad Ali's passing.
I've lived in Louisville for nearly four years. (My formative years were spent in my own beloved hometown of Detroit.)
I grew up knowing exactly who Muhammad Ali was as a cultural and sports figure. I knew about his heavyweight titles, his penchant for poetry and his ability to play on words, his fierce opposition to war and his dedication to civil rights.
I understood these elements of Ali from discussions with my family and from historical references made by teachers in school. I also had the chance as a teen to see Will Smith's electrifying portrayal in "Ali."
Since his passing, I've heard countless stories of how Ali touched the lives of many, ranging from my colleagues' remembrances to a doctor who described seeing Ali walking down Bardstown Road by himself and sharing his regret of not pulling over and offering the champ a ride.
Despite all these stories, Ali still felt like a historical figure (which he very much is, of course), but for me he didn't feel like the person so many people have described this past week ... that is until today.
Through a series of very fortunate events, I had the immense opportunity to get a seat inside the KFC Yum! Center for Friday's public memorial for Muhammad Ali.
Over the course of the ceremony, which lasted about three hours, I feel as though Ali became something much, much more than the revered legend that I grew up hearing about.
The ceremony at different points took on the tone of a sporting event (as the crowd chanted Ali's name with frenetic devotion), a political rally, a poetry slam and a spiritual revival. The mood was all dependent on who was doing the talking. What I felt was undeniable was no matter who was speaking, everyone who took the stage today represented a significant facet of Ali's life whether it was family, political or spiritual.
As more people spoke during the ceremony, Muhammad Ali became much more real and far less abstract.
I have completely come to understand just why people felt so connected to him. One of the speakers at the ceremony described how the two were out to dinner and a group of firefighters came up wanting autographs. Ali's first instinct was to sign the autographs in between bites of his meal. In hearing that speech, I get the sense of just how down to earth Ali was and of how he was able to stay connected to people from all walks of life, despite his intense celebrity.
The love with which his wife Lonnie, and daughters Maryum and Rasheda spoke clearly explains how devoted he was to his family. To hear his friends speak, no matter the walk of life, the same lights shone through: Ali was the same devoted humanitarian and friend. After attending the ceremony, I came to understand Ali as a man who grew up on Grand Avenue in west Louisville and went on to travel the globe. Despite his triumphs, he always came back to his roots and never for a moment forgot about his hometown.
The devotion Ali had for his beloved hometown was returned to him on Friday as thousands lined the streets as his funeral procession made its way through Louisville.
For me, it feels in a way that in death, Ali has emerged to bring a better understanding to exactly just what his impact has been here in Louisville. I didn't understand it before this past week. Now the significance of Ali to his hometown is crystal clear for this non-Louisville native.
Jared Brown is a web producer for WDRB News.
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