P.O.P. chairman recalls meeting Muhammad Ali in 1979.

People's Organization for Progress Chairman Larry Hamm treasures this photo of his then 4-year-old daughter, Laini Hamm, with Muhammad Ali at the United Nations in New York City in 1979. Hamm had been one of many apartheid student activists invited to hear Ali address the U.N. Special Committee Against Apartheid.
People’s Organization for Progress Chairman Larry Hamm treasures this photo of his then 4-year-old daughter, Laini Hamm, with Muhammad Ali at the United Nations in New York City in 1979. Hamm had been one of many apartheid student activists invited to hear Ali address the U.N. Special Committee Against Apartheid.

NEWARK, NJ — The news of Muhammad Ali’s death broke just after midnight on Saturday, June 4.

Ali’s funeral is scheduled to take place on Friday, June 10. The six-day delay between his death and his burial is unusual for Muslims such as Ali, as Islam calls for a speedy interment, later followed by a janaza, a special prayer service, at a mosque.

Locally, the reaction to Ali’s death was as heartfelt as it has been around the world, with events scheduled to honor his life and legacy, and personal remembrances of him and his impact on so many lives due to his success in the boxing ring and his refusal — as a conscientious objector — to fight in the Vietnam War. The latter ultimately cost him his championship title and three prime years of his athletic career.

A janaza for Ali was held Sunday, June 5, at 1 p.m. in Kellogg Park on North Avenue in Elizabeth, two days after his death Friday, June 3, due to respiratory problems. He had been fighting Parkinson’s disease for a several years.

People’s Organization for Progress Chairman Larry Hamm had a very personal Ali moment in time to share: a photo of his daughter, Laini Hamm, with the boxer.

According to Hamm on Sunday, June 5, “Laini was about 4 years old when this picture was taken in 1979 at the United Nations in New York City. A group of anti-apartheid student activists from Princeton University, including myself, who were part of the People’s Front for the Liberation of Southern Africa, had been invited to an extraordinary session of the U.N. Special Committee Against Apartheid to hear Muhammad Ali address that body and speak out against the racist apartheid system of South Africa.”

Hamm said he still has very vivid memories of his meeting with Ali on the floor of the United Nations. He said the boxer’s stand against racism and injustice in South Africa was a natural extension of his crusade against racism in the United States and Jim Crow laws in the South.

Ali was born and raised in Kentucky, and Hamm said it was clear to him that day at the United Nations that institutionalized racism in the United Sates disturbed Ali because it reminded him of apartheid in South Africa.

“That country was still under white minority rule at that time,” said Hamm on Sunday, June 5. “I brought my daughter, Laini, with me on this visit to the U.N. Before we left, I was able to meet Mr. Ali and I asked him to take this picture with Laini.”

Hamm said the picture stayed in a scrapbook for years, until Ali’s death.

“A few days ago, when I heard about the death of Muhammad Ali … amazingly, Laini, without having spoken to me in advance, sent a copy of the photo to me. … I told her I was glad she has saved the picture. Laini said she was glad, too,” Hamm said.

Hamm said the picture of his daughter and Ali — and the story behind it — will always serve as a reminder for him of why the former heavyweight boxing champion of the world is known as “The Greatest.”

“Muhammad Ali was not only a boxing champion; he was a champion in the struggle for human rights,” said Hamm, who went on to found the People’s Organization for Progress after that meeting with Ali in 1979.

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Long live the spirit of Muhammad Ali.”

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