Remembering the secret neighbor

I’m not a boxing fan; in fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever watched a match. But Muhammad Ali, who passed away last Friday, was a household name when I grew up. Not only was he a famous world champion, who had somewhat obscurely changed his name after converting to Islam, he also lived next-door.

Yes, of all the places in the world, Muhammad Ali had chosen to settle after retirement in Berrien Springs, Michigan, a small town of 2,000 people. He moved there in 1986, the same year my father’s academic pursuits brought our family to the very same town.

I never saw or met him myself, and according to media he mostly kept to himself. But just knowing the fact that a world-famous sports champion was living in the neighborhood brought a sense of excitement and awe to us. And as was later been revealed, he provided anonymous support to many local causes.

We moved away, and so did he, leaving Michigan in 2006 for Arizona for health reasons due to his battle with Parkinson’s. But his estate is still there – in fact, it’s just half a mile from my parent’s current home, and we regularly walk past the gates when taking an afternoon stroll. This is a picture I took of his main gate back in 2012.

Muhammad Ali Berrien Springs home

Muhammad Ali Google

Although he made a career hitting people, it is perhaps Ali’s legacy of peace that stands out the most. His resistance to the draft for Vietnam earned him fame, and a lawsuit. Troubled by xenophobic America, he found solace in religion, standing up for Islam as a religion of peace especially in the tensions following 9/11.

Muhammad Ali will be buried tomorrow in Louisville, Kentucky. May he rest in peace.


Author: Kenneth Mollerup Birch

Living north of Copenhagen, Denmark. MA in Information Science. Interests include communication, internet, sociology, language, politics, religion, theology, travel, music, and food.

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