Former professional boxer Muhammad Ali is generally considered among the greatest heavyweights in the sport’s history. A controversial and even polarizing figure during his early career, Ali is today widely regarded not only for the skills he displayed in the ring but for the values he exemplified outside of it: religious freedom, racial justice and the triumph of principle over expedience.
When Ali appeared on the scene, it was popular among those in the vanguard of the civil rights movement to take the “safe” path. That path was unsafe for those who participated in the struggle. Too many men and women were subjected to economic assaults, violence and death when they carried the struggle “too far.”
Then along came Ali, preaching not “white American values,” but freedom and equality of a kind rarely seen anywhere in the world. And as if that wasn’t threatening enough, Ali attacked the status quo from outside of politics and the accepted strategies of the civil rights movement.
Bob Marley was a Jamaican singer-songwriter who achieved international fame through a series of crossover reggae albums. He’s considered to be one of the greatest and most influential artists of all time. Marley is often credited with making the Rastafarian way of life popular around the world, and he was passionate about the rights of African people across the Diaspora.
His accomplishments are too many to list here. However, his music can be thought of as the soundtrack to many independent struggles in Africa.
Always trying to broker peace, Marley almost paid with his life in December 1976, when he was scheduled to perform at a concert aimed at ending political violence in Jamaica. Two days before the event, gunmen opened fire on his Kingston home attempting to kill him before he could perform. Miraculously, Bob and the rest of the band escaped with their lives intact.
In recognition of his courageous attempt to bridge Jamaica’s cavernous political divide, Marley traveled to the United Nations in New York where he received the Peace Medal of the Third World in June 1978.