As the daughter of Muhammad Ali and looking back on my fathers life I’m reminded how full and remarkably extraordinary life can be. It’s too easy to lose sight of your potential and take what time we have for granted. There have been two moments I can recall when I was painfully aware of my own mortality. The birth of my son Jacob and the passing of my father. Both seminal moments that brought the gravity of how I want to live my life into clear focus.
On his birthday I am reminded and deeply inspired by the scope of humanitarian work both he and my stepmother Lonnie have done. As a parent I’ve learned the one of best things you can leave behind to your family and children are the good deeds you’ve done for others.
I see him everywhere shapelessly living in stories I hear about random acts of kindness, bravery and his deep and profound love for all. The love that’s evoked by simply speaking his name is the greatest gift any parent could ever give a child.
I feel a strong sense of stewardship to preserve and cultivate the gifts and legacy through public service.
I am proud to say I have served countless organizations along with numerous humanitarian trips. However, there was one that summoned my presence and made demands of me that at first glance I wasn’t sure I could or was even willing to do. Because of my personal and outspoken fight against diamond mining and the other countless human tragedies in the Congo I hesitated. The irony here is if I wasn’t a parent I would’ve blindly went. Somewhere between looking back at the photos of my young father training for fights just months after my birth gave me inspiration. As did the unrelenting force of Noella Coursaris Musunka.
For those of us who know her at the very least nothing is surprising. How do you get a self-professed suburban helicopter/tiger mom with her then 9-year-old and husband to the Congo, considered to be one of the most dangerous places in the world. After countless rounds of deliberation her Rope a Dope like tactics resulted in a 14 hour voyage into the Heart of Darkness.
In spite of the fact that was a supposed lack of media coverage or that no one from my family had returned since the infamous Rumble in the Jungle Noella Coursaris Musunka had a dream. She is a force of nature neatly packaged in a tiny unstoppable package.
What could come of this? And how on earth was she going to build the glossy rendering of a girls school she handed me in absolute confidence. Being someone whos’ life is steeped in public service I wasn’t looking for a dilettante photo op. Or, to be perfectly honest, take an unnecessary risk as parent of a young child.
Looking back it’s been over 10 years. No regrets. In fact it’s been a privilege and honor. Today Malaika educates 280 girls per day providing them with meals and a holistic education. Over 7000 people are served by her community center each year with 8 wells supplying clean and safe water to over 16,000 people in Kalebuka. All done with a budget that operates on a 10% administrative fundraising cost.
Noella, like my father, was willing to be a major disruptor, dreamer and willing to put her life and financial well-being on the line for what she believes. Clearly, no matter how big the opposition or how quite frankly how insane the dream may be.
This all began with a promise to her mother that she would make the Congo a better place. After witnessing the gravity of not only her will and self transcendence but also the power of love today, I and many others sees the light that she seen in the Heart of Darkness.
Like Nollea I very much want to make my father proud and leave this world much better than I found it for my son and his children.
Daddy I love you and can’t thank you enough for everything that you have given and continue to give throughout the entire world through your continued an everlasting love ..