By Deborah Bailey,
Black History Month ends with a rousing knock out as the DMV 48 Men of Power honored boxing great Rahman Ali, only brother of Muhammed Ali at a festive and spirited ceremony Feb. 24. Program host, Dr. Renee Allen, welcomed DMV luminaries and fans from the corporate, philanthropic, sports, entertainment and faith communities to pay tribute to Rahman Ali, the professional boxer, humanitarian and world ambassador for the Ali legacy.
International tributes from the Embassies of Saudi Arabia and Turkey recognized both Rahman and his brother, boxing heavyweight champion Mohammed Ali, both of whom modeled the spirit of peace and unity through athletics throughout their heavy-weight championship careers.
Emin Orhan Dereli, Embassy of the Republic of Turkey described the sportsmanship of the Ali brothers and their famous “knockout” bouts as “the punches that break down walls that separate our communities.”
Senator Chris Van Hollen, Governor Wes Moore and Prince George’ County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy resonated the twin themes of athletic excellence and spreading unity in tributes prepared for Rahman from their offices.
Professional Boxer Franchon Crews-Dezurn, undisputed Female Super MiddleWeight World Champion, spoke about the ongoing significance of the Ali name, on behalf of athletes everywhere. Crews Dezern mentioned all the multi-generational, male and female legacy of the Ali family with her tribute to both the men and women in the Ali family who entered the boxing ring: Mohammed, Rahmad and Laila Ali, daughter of Mohammed Ali, who retired from boxing in 2007 as a two-weight world champion.
“The Ali legacy stretches so far,” Crews-Dezurn said. “You and your family impacted the world of sports, but not only that – the whole world. Everything you’ve done will continue to impact generations,” she concluded.
Singer Sylver Logan Sharp, former lead vocalist with Chic, serenaded Ali with an inspirational version of “If I Could Change the World,” followed by a heartwarming and humorous remembrance by comedienne, actress and the first Black female impressionist, Sylvia Traymore Morrison.
Morrison told the story of how she met Ali as replacement host for the 1979 Muhammed Ali Roast at the Apollo Theatre in New York, taking the place of the iconic Richard Pryor. She said upon first meeting Ali, she immediately knew the connection was more than temporal.
“I walked into the room and when I greeted Ali, the first impression I got was there is something Godly about this man.” Morrison said.
Rahmad Ali followed his brother Mohammed into the boxing ring as an amateur boxer at the age of 12, in Louisville, Kentucky. He turned to professional boxing in 1964. With a record of 14 wins and three losses, Rahman said his proudest moments in the sport “were when my brother sat ringside and watched me box,” with that trademark Ali twinkle in his eye.
“I showed him I could both take a punch and give a punch,” Rahman said. Half of his professional bouts as well as one of his losses were knock out decisions.
Rahman, whose birth name was Rudolph Valentino Clay, also followed his brother into the Muslim faith, becoming a practicing Muslim as a teenager. His faith and the Ali family legacy of service and sport as a platform for spreading good will and unity are the main motivators in his life now.
A life in which America has become more open to and accepting of the Muslim faith, according to Rahman and his wife Carolyn, who Rahman says, “is one of the most intelligent women I have ever met.”
“The schools are opening up now. More people are making requests for Rahman to speak” Carolyn said. She and Rahman both said the gates of understanding the Muslim faith opened after Mohammed Ali’s death and elegant memorial ceremonies watched by an estimated 1 billion viewers world-wide, according to the Mohammed Ali Center. “God is so wonderful,” said Carolyn.
“We are here to promote peace. We are here to promote understanding,” said Dr. Bruno Mazali, calling those assembled to the reason for honoring Rahman Ali.
“This is the beginning. This is the time, this is the moment of bringing the whole world together,” Mazali said.
For Rahman Ali, that means being a conduit of the love that brought him from the streets of Louisville, Kentucky to the world stage, to remind a world torn asunder with division that the Ali legacy and love of sports, is a vehicle to connect across cultures, countries and continents.
“I’m here now simply to help people love people,” said Rahman Ali, lifting his eyes, softly.
“The DMV 48 Men of Power: A Local Guide to Great Black Men in the DMV” was compiled by Bruce W. Branch and Dr. Renee Allen in 2021 and describes the challenges and triumphs of exemplary men of color in the DMV.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from but it matters where you are going,” said Branch.