SPECIAL SERVICE: Muhammad Ali
THE PEOPLE of Birmingham said their own special farewell to Muhammad Ali with a service of reflection to honour The Greatest and remember how he inspired so many to hold their heads up high.
Rev Canon Eve Pitts, the Anglican vicar of Holy Trinity Parish Church, who organised the service, said the three-times world heavyweight boxing champion made her generation far more certain of their identity.
“Along with people like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Angela Davis, he enabled our generation to hold our heads up high,” said Rev Eve.
“But one of the problems with our community is we do not honour our heroes – we leave it for others to honour and dishonour them. We must have the courage to honour our heroes and ‘sheroes.’
“Muhammad Ali fought for justice and equal right for all. He was a man of peace and he helped me to believe in the impossible as a young black woman growing up in Nottingham.
“I make no apology. Muhammad Ali made us feel we had an identity that was quite distinct – one we could be proud of.”
Bishop Dr Joe Aldred praised Rev Eve for continuing to provide a valued space where people were able to “unapologetically embrace some elements of life in the black community” when, often, such spaces were becoming harder to find.
TRIBUTE: Bishop Dr Joe Aldred
He said: “I commend this church again for bringing us together to celebrate the life of Muhammad Ali. Looking back to a time when black degradation was a sport for so many, when lynching was carried out for the most minor of crimes, Muhammad Ali chose to stand up and refuse this degradation as a human being.
“He posed a challenge to the Christian church, a church that in the part of the world where Ali lived was hand in glove with the things that degraded black humanity. It’s interesting that where he found resonance was not in the Christian church, but the Nation of Islam. That tells us something.”
Tanya Chitunhu, who specialises in writing Christian poetry, recited her own poetical tribute to Ali in which she said: “You taught us to live our lives. This was your destiny – to be a beautiful, brilliant, black man.”
People in the congregation took to their feet to pay their own tributes to The Greatest, including several people who had seen him when he came to Birmingham in 1983 to open a community centre built in his honour and named after him.
It is currently derelict, but has now been taken over the enterprise group Kajans, which is determined to resurrect the centre as a valuable community resource. Since his death, calls for the centre to be reopened have grown much stronger.
SPECIAL FAREWELL: Tanya Chitunhu, reciting her poem written for Muhammad Ali
One woman spoke about how she was inspired by Ali as a child because he inspired her mum. She said: “It was unheard of to hear one of our community say: ‘I am black and I’m pretty.’ In those days anything Euro-centric was seen as superb and anything that was Afro-Centric was considered very inferior.”
Others spoke of how inspirational it was to watch Ali both in and also out of the ring when he demonstrated his wit and intellect in interviews on prime-time UK television.
Rev Eve, who held the UK’s first ‘Arise’ memorial service to honour enslaved ancestors last October, will held a second service this year on Sunday September 18.
She also held an ‘Arise Daughters’ service in February for women only and will hold an ‘Arise Black Men’ event on Sunday July 31st at 3.30pm at Holy Trinity Church, Birchfield, Birmingham, B20 3AE. All are welcome.