A Baptist pastor from Muhammad Ali’s childhood neighborhood in Louisville, Ky., eulogized the fallen champ and hometown hero as “a product of a difficult time” who “dared to love black people at a time when black people had a problem loving themselves” at a public memorial service June 10.
“He dared to affirm the beauty of blackness,” Pastor Kevin Cosby of St. Stephen Church in Louisville’s predominantly African-American West End spoke to a crowd of 20,000 at the KFC Yum! Center in downtown Louisville. “He dared to affirm the power, the capacity of African-Americans. He dared to love America’s most unloved race.”
Cosby, who also serves as president of Simmons College of Kentucky, a historically black school leading efforts to revitalize West Louisville in partnership with suburban churches and the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship, said Louisville is famous for two things: Muhammad Ali and the Kentucky Derby.
On the first Saturday of May, Cosby said, race horses burst from the starting gate, run two minutes in the mud and then the winner is ushered to the winner’s circle.
“Please know the rules,” the pastor said. “You cannot bet for the horse once it’s in the winner’s circle. You have to bet for the horse while it’s still in the mud.”
“There are a lot of people who will be and have bet on Muhammad Ali when he was in the winner’s circle, but the masses bet on him while he was still in the mud,” Cosby said.
“Please don’t mishear me,” Cosby said. “I am not saying that Muhammad Ali is the property of the black people. He is the property of all people. But while he is the property of all people, let us never forget that he is the product of black people in their struggle to be free.”
“I went looking for Jesus on a poor West End street, thinking that I would find him as he walked around with men and women with stumbling feet,” Cosby transitioned to rhyme. “People who had their heads bowed low, because they were broke and had nowhere to go.
“But then I went looking for Jesus way in the sky, thinking he would wear a robe that would dazzle my eye.
“But suddenly Jesus came walking by, with stumbling feet because he had been hanging with the poor on a West End street.”
“The Muhammad Ali of my childhood had a shuffle, but as he grew older he walked with shuffling feet,” Cosby said. “And I would submit to you today that he walked with shuffling feet not because of Parkinson’s disease, but he walked with shuffling feet because he hanged out with the folk in West Louisville who had shuffling feet.”