When 18-year-old boxer Cassius Marcellus Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali) met Khalilah Ali (no relation) on the school grounds at the University of Islam for the first time in 1960, he introduced himself to her and said, “I’m going to be heavyweight champion of the world by the time I’m 21, so get your autographs now!” and gave her a slip of paper with his name on it. Upon reading it, she was stunned that he did not have a Muslim name.
“Your name is Cassius Marcellus Clay,” she said. “That’s a Roman name. Do you know what the Romans did to people?”
She proceeded to tear up the paper, unimpressed, and lectured him on boasting about his slave name. She stressed the importance of carrying a name of honor, worthy of respect and recognition. A Muslim name. She wanted no part of it until he learned about himself. The woman who later became his Muhammad Ali’s wife was instrumental in mentoring him through his initiation to Islam. This is how Dr. Khalila Camacho Ali starts her journey in her new book, Undefeated: the Untold Story of My Forgiveness and Healing, (The Greatest Publishing, 2023). And she makes sure to clarify, “My book is called Undefeated, and it’s not because of Muhammad Ali. It’s because I’m a karate champion, and I’ve never been defeated in fighting.”
Undefeated the memoir is about her first marriage to the man who later became known as The Greatest and how much of this image and this brand was built out of the labor of a devoted wife.
The book delves into her personal, remarkable and turbulent marriage to Muhammad Ali, taking us behind closed doors into an intimate world we seldom learn about. Ali, the mighty boxer who left a legacy for all boxers to come, and especially for all Black people to cherish, was quite different in his private life. This book reveals a man at the peak of his flaws, showing a side of Ali that challenges public perception.
The two married in 1967 and spent the first few years of their life devoted to Islam and to each other. They had children together, and through the challenges of Ali’s suspension from boxing due to his staunch anti-war stance and refusal to be drafted for the Vietnam War, Khalilah Ali stood by her husband. She, in fact, had been the one to encourage him to remain strong in the Islamic faith and resist the call to serve the army. When he asked her what she would do in his place, she was the one who said, “I’d say ‘Hell no! I ain’t going to go out there myself! Take me to jail without bail. Hell no!’”
She, who had postponed her college dreams to marry him, knew he would need support, and embraced her domestic training to afford the family what was needed. The memoir takes us into this journey of a young bride blossoming into her calling to support a husband who was still a rising star in boxing, even after his defeat of Sonny Liston.
But Undefeated is more than that. It’s a memoir about the woman the world did not get to know, the first wife who built Ali’s image, strengthened his business, bolstered him spiritually, helped forge his character and even fed him lines to the poems and quips of ultimate confidence he was known for. “Despite Ali’s inability to box [because of his refusal to be drafted], people still wanted to meet, see, and hear from the Heavyweight Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist. So, I wrote his speeches, and he delivered them. I became his mouthpiece, his voice.”
The memoir is about Khalilah Ali and her strength of character, her faith in Islam, which permeates every endeavor in her life, her rollercoaster of emotions but ultimately, her triumph through difficult times and her dreams of boosting other women through their own trials. The Alis’ marriage began to fall apart due to an intense and challenging string of infidelities, with Muhammad Ali fathering children outside of his marriage and having affairs publicly. At one point he brought his mistress into his wife’s mosque, even going so far as to demand she accept sharing him with other women, all under the eye of his enabling entourage. As another side of him began to arise, Khalilah Ali struggled with the difficult decision that lay before her. Should she stay in the marriage and endure the humiliation of mistresses being brought into her own mosque? Or should she put her own self-respect and happiness first?
This question is not just hers to answer. Women juggle these decisions every day, and because of her strong faith in Islam and her own natural determination and character, Dr. Khalilah Camacho- Ali, who now goes by Mama Ali, was able to extricate herself from these hardships and foresee them in the lives of others, even after years of being divorced from Ali. She has four surviving children with Ali after three miscarriages, and she since remarried and had two more children. She is now focused on multiple endeavors, including teaching young women etiquette, starting a podcast in the new year, launching and running her own casting and film production agency and much more. This odyssey was a means for her to focus her awareness on where she would be most needed. This, she says, is why she felt the memoir was necessary.
“I wrote this book because it shows a woman in my own right, and what future things I want to do in my lifetime that I’ve always had in my mind to do for children and women,” Dr. Ali says. “And I’ve done so much in the cause of women and children that I want to carry on my goals for that purpose.”
Interview with Dr. Khalilah Camacho-Ali (Mama Ali)
Fabienne Josaphat: One of the best things I learned was how you met Muhammad Ali. I love that anecdote in the book, when he signs his autograph. And you have that conversation about a Roman name and a slave name.
Dr. Ali: Yes, right. I put it in his head to change his name or to have a different name.
FJ:Was this an idea that was anchored in you through Islam?
Dr. Ali: Yes.
FJ: And I love that you said it without even being worried. It seemed like you were not even worried about his reaction.
Dr. Ali: No, I wasn’t. I didn’t care, I’ll just tell him facts. The reason is because I was teaching him a lesson about, if you just want to have a name of anything, you have a name of culture, have a name of respect. Matter of fact, have our Muslim name because most of our Islamic heroes have these beautiful names. And then this name that, that the slave master had put on us being slaves coming over here to America, we want to ban that, because he’s a free man.
FJ: This was your school, right? I remember you described the moment, and it sounded like people were really impressed with him. It feels like the average person would be so impressed that they would be worried about saying something like that.
Dr. Ali: No, I didn’t have to worry about it. It was education. Yes, an education lesson.
FJ: But I think it also, it also speaks to your character. To be admired because you were strong before you even met him? I think that’s important.
Dr. Ali: Yes, I’m strong. I’ve always been strong in my convictions and dedication, loyalty to my faith and to my religion. It was encouraged, simply because of the fact that during that time, we were trying to get [rid of] segregation in schools. And Black human rights, doing the same thing. And that’s why I asked him. I said, “Are you really proud of this name? You act like you’re really proud of it.” And he said he thought he was, until I brought up the whole thing. And it also attracted the students in school as well, because they know how outgoing I speak out all the time. And instead of them just getting the autograph and walking away, they wanted to see my reaction, because they knew how I was going to react. And they just had to stay to see.
FJ: You just tore up the name, didn’t you? That’s amazing.
Dr. Ali: Yeah, I was tearing it up.
FJ: See, you’re bringing something up that’s interesting. And I’m going to ask you about this. Right now, at least in the state of Florida, there’s a lot of conversation about what’s happening in schools and how they’re trying to whitewash history from books. What is your opinion of that? And how do you see that impacting future generations?
Dr. Ali: They had a problem not even putting Black history in schools. And now Black history is inevitable to be in school, because Black history is American history. They should not try to ban it, because otherwise they would have to ban all kinds of history out of America, and by them being specifically trying to change it just because your forefathers were slave masters …
I mean, you can’t change the fact just because you feel bad about it. That’s just part of the history. But times have changed. And people have changed. And so, these people are not in the hateful mood the way they used to be because they were caught up that way. And then trying to show that not only it’s a Christian thing to do, but it’s the right thing to do. And they shouldn’t be trying to change history. Because if you try to change the history, you just can’t do that. God is not going to allow that to happen.
And I feel that, and when we start putting people in our lives, it’s more of a relief to know that people have changed out of the hate that they had during the slavery days. And they found out hate was unnecessary. They’re human just like anybody else. And they must abide by the spiritual books that God has brought before us: the Bible, the Torah, and the Quran. The Declaration of Independence said, We the people are all equal as just the right thing to do.
FJ: It seems like the fear is that if you teach it, that it’s going to teach Black people to be angry and hateful. And I mean, as a person, as a Person of Color. I don’t feel that way. I just feel like it’s important because it’s American history, that we teach everything, so that we know what our history has been and that we don’t repeat it.
Dr. Ali: But see that by just knowing your history, you know not to go back in that direction. So, it’s a lesson to be learned, nothing to hate. And as time has gone by, now all of us can go to LA Fitness and swim in a pool, and they don’t have to drink at another cooler because a Black man was in it. Right? So, we all are swimming in the pool now together with no problems about it, because all humans are human. Right? And now that we’ve grown out of that, that is the lesson to be learned and it’s called progress. So, they should be happy. History is history, because it is history.
FJ: Another thing that I wanted to talk about as we started this conversation about H. Rap Brown, but it’s not so much about H. Rap Brown, it was, at the time, what he was fighting for. And also, I think it goes to the stance that Muhammad Ali has taken in his lifetime, about the direction in which he saw things going, specifically when it came to the Vietnam War. How do you feel about those two separate schools of thought coming together? What was the common thread, and what really made you want to meet H. Rap Brown and have that conversation with him?
Dr. Ali: I wanted to meet H. Rap Brown because he was a man who stood up against the system, and for a man to do that, he had courage. I mean, I don’t agree with him burning things down or anything, but somebody had to make a stand and make people take notice of what’s going on in cities, and you have to rebel in a certain kind of way. A lot of times, the Revolutionary period, they rebelled in protesting, some prevailed in bringing stuff down, but at least they made a point and made a difference. It wasn’t something I agree with him doing. It’s the fact that I was proud of him to stand up and fight against the system. That was what I was proud of. And he was a beautiful man. Jamil Abdullah Al Amin.
FJ: Do you think that revolution, burning things, that we need to get there every time, to burn things down to make a point? Or do you think that simply dialoguing or protesting in a peaceful manner is the way?
Dr. Ali: No, I don’t I don’t think so. See, we don’t believe in hurting any family, tearing down precious a building that people so kindly worked hard to build. Not even cutting down a tree. Right? It’s up. But this day in time right now, we shouldn’t have any kind of malice. When it comes to burning things down. I don’t think they should burn things. No.
I think they should be heard. I think they should protest a peaceful protest. And I think they still will be heard. Because talking peace is better than violence. So, I’ve always been for non-violence, to speak your words. Your words should be heard. Your words should be valuable. And love, too. We are intelligent, highly intelligent people. And with our intelligence that God has given us, we can negotiate anything, anywhere, at any time. When things come to be violent, then that means the devil has come in between us in peace. And we don’t want the devil to make his reign. So, when a person is highly intelligent and talks over things, I think that’s the best way. Talk. It is to better talk.
FJ: I think the last time we saw that kind of outburst was, in my mind, after George Floyd, where things really got heated up. Do you think that with a peaceful conversation, they could have made the same point that they made?
Dr. Ali: Sure, they could. When it comes to George Floyd, this is not like the ’60s. And this is not like the ’50s. Everybody’s got cameras, everything is seen on camera. And justice can be justified, with action of sight. So, with all this technology, things that we have now, that’s all in your favor. That’s even better, more in your favor. So, technology has achieved justice. Because everybody’s got these. Everybody’s got phones, right?
Somebody’s always watching, but see what they don’t realize. God is watching. And his justice will be heard. In God’s time. But see, if people don’t put God in front of God first. That is the most important thing in the world, the Creator is the only one. So, when things and catastrophe happen, it’s for a reason, it’s for tests. That’s why He gives us His permission for not only the good people of justice to learn from, but the evil to learn from, they still have to learn, too.
FJ: Speaking of this, I’d like to talk about the Vietnam War. Because as much as people love the story of Muhammad Ali, how brave he was as a fighter and what he meant for his people, I think the part that fascinates me the most about him was the stance that he took about the Vietnam War.
Dr. Ali: The stance that Muhammad Ali took was because of the religion he was indoctrinated in. It was a lot of people in this world, not just Muslims. They had a lot of caucasians against the Vietnam War, Jane Fonda, a lot of people were against the war. A lot of hippies were against the war. It wasn’t just Muhammad Ali, the whole of humanity was against the war, right?
So just by him standing up because of his beliefs, and that I stress to him that I believe is important. I told him that would be best for him to do as Muslims do, we sacrifice, we go to jail. We sacrifice all the things that white men want to take from us, and we go to jail. To stand up and protest by making a stand. Ali said, “I don’t want to go to jail.” But that’s the sacrifice you have to make. And so, the fact that Muhammad was blessed with a fighting ability, a great fighting ability, there was no way they were gonna lock this man up, and he could fight. Then the gangsters would lose all the boxing money. See?
So, it’s inevitable for them to let him loose because of the greed. You see what I’m saying? I told him! I said, these people, as good as you fight, they want their boxing money. They’re not gonna lock up a great fighter when they can bet on it and make money off of you. So, it would be their best bet to let you go. That’s why I know you’re going to be free. That’s how I knew it. He said, “I don’t understand this, how do you know this?” Because we were able to think ahead, think ahead.
FJ: So you had that conversation with him and you made him –
Dr. Ali: Yes, I did, and he made his decision.
FJ: I think that’s genius.
Dr. Ali: You have to understand. A lot of people are influenced by Muhammad. You have to realize Muhammad was influenced by others. Like me, the Muslims. We were his influence. So, there was a time when I saw him doing all this crazy stuff, before I divorced him. I asked him a personal question. I said, “Can I ask you a personal question before I divorce you? Everybody wants to be like you. I mean, a lot of people, more than most. I just want to know, who do you want to be like?”
And he said, “You know what, I’m not trying to pitch on the back or anything, and I was expecting to hear Malcolm X or something like that, or great fighter or something like that.” He said, “No, if I could just be half as strong as you. I would be that. Just half of that. Strong, because I admire your strength.” Now, that was a shock to me. I didn’t expect that to come out.
FJ: How did it make you feel when he said that? Did you know at the time that you were going to ask him for a divorce?
Dr. Ali: Yeah, that was during the time that made me realize that he was listening all the time. He just didn’t do any better. But he was listening.
FJ: Did that make your decision harder after he said that? Because I imagine it would make it harder for me.
Dr. Ali: It didn’t make it harder. It made it easier.
Dr. Ali: Because he knew better, and he didn’t do any better. All this time he knew better, and he just wouldn’t do any better. So that made me convinced.
FJ: Why do you think that is? Is it just a personality trait?
Dr. Ali: Personality! There are some men who just won’t listen. You can teach somebody 100 times and tell him to go in the right direction, and they won’t do it. Because that’s what they’re made of. And some people are just too weak. And they say, “Well, I’m already weak. I’ve already done this, I might as well just keep doing it. Because I don’t see what’s gonna come out of it. I’m the greatest thing ever anyway. So, what can I get out of it, trying to do what’s right? I’m still Muhammad Ali.” That’s what he looked at. That’s the way I see he was looking at it.
FJ: There, you were definitely stronger than he was.
Dr. Ali: I wasn’t just stronger. It’s the fact that I grew up with a spiritual foundation, my foundation wasn’t broken. My foundation was very strong, and it’s made me survive. Whatever you do in your lifetime, you have to put your religion, your faith first. Because when you put your religion and your faith first, everything else is taken care of. Let God control everything. Just as long as you stay faithful to your faith, then you’re going to survive, whether you’re with or without a person. That’s how I survived. If I had my head down, I wouldn’t have survived. I knew when I would be jumping overboard, I wanted to him to be the strongest person. And I have just found that I was stronger. I was stronger.
This is why the book that I wrote is about forgiveness. Because we all make mistakes in our lifetime. Some make worse mistakes than others, and nobody’s perfect. So, once you know somebody’s weaknesses, and they’re just not gonna straighten out, it’s best to just get off their platform and move on. You don’t want to be with somebody knowing that platform, and you’re behind them. That means you’re OK. And I’m not gonna okay what he’s doing. I’m totally against what he’s doing. He’s been unfaithful. He’s been disrespectful. In public, in front of our family. It’s something that I just would not allow. I’m not gonna stay married to somebody for 20 years knowing this.
FJ: This was 20 years?
Dr. Ali: No, no, this was 10 years. I wasn’t gonna let it be 20! You know, knowing all this about him? I’m gonna stay there and be with him. So, I’m just trying to save women out there. You know what? If you see nothing’s gonna change, do you need to get off that phase? You need to go in and start all over again. And you can, because do not sit there and watch somebody do something over and over and over, disrespecting you, disrespecting your family and disrespecting your religion.
You cannot allow that, that is unacceptable. And I don’t care how many kids you got. I don’t care how many … Look, if you want them to do what’s right, then you need to be under a roof that’s gonna be right for you. Otherwise, it’s just like me being married to a burglar, or a person who robbed somebody. If I know they’re gonna keep robbing and stealing from somebody, I can’t do that. I can’t, I cannot see him rob and kill or hurt somebody over and over and over. And I’m a part of it? No way!
FJ: Right, because then that makes me complicit.
Dr. Ali: Then you just accepted it, because you’re making money from it. So how do you think those other family feel? That’s why I forgave him for all the things that he did. That’s the way he wanted to end it. So, I had to end it. We’re gonna just be family, we’re going to still love each other, and we got to support each other in the right way. But I’m not going to be married to you. It’s not going to happen.
FJ: I noticed there were a lot of parallels being drawn between Colin Kaepernick and his taking a knee for the anthem, to the movement. First of all, what I noticed is that people’s memories fade very easily. So, when he started to take a knee, they felt like, athletes didn’t have the right to protest. And I was like, wait a minute, that’s not accurate. That’s not what I remember.
Dr. Ali: What you have to realize is that these athletes are controlled by white society. These are the new modern slave masters. You work in the field, you don’t say anything, you don’t go up against your master, right? So, when he made a kneeling stand, that was the perfect moment, because that’s when everybody is watching. I mean, he’s not going to make a stand ain’t nobody watching. So, him making the kneel for freedom and justice and equality, that was the perfect moment. I think he did the right thing. And I think more owners should be Black men, instead of white men. They should be able to sell the conglomerate to Black owners, because 90% of the players are Black.
FJ: What advice would you give to your younger self?
Dr. Ali: You did a good job, keep doing it. I don’t regret anything I’ve done. When it comes to that. It’s just that it just took time for the religion to give us the answers that I was looking for. The religion that I look at now, they have so many good speakers out there now, explaining the religion in the right manner. And they’re speaking out more than they did before.
And I wish we had that back in the ‘60s. And we didn’t. It wasn’t … the freedom of women, it wasn’t spoken out, even though it was written that way. But it wasn’t practiced that way, about people in control, and the man has no control over a woman. It’s a balance. It’s a balanced situation. The men are protectors and providers, and society is stripping our men of that right now.
They’re stripping our men, and they’ve divided and conquered by putting welfare. And if you aren’t, if you got a man living in your house, they don’t give you no money, that’s dividing and conquering your families, it’s just like slavery. It’s a modern day slavery going on, right? Divide and conquer the family, the family syndrome, they’re dividing the family every day. More Black men are in jail under penal code, and they’re not given any rights to be independent. They’re not given any money to support them and their independence.
Even though there are men who are independent, because they make it their business to be independent. They don’t get trapped under the dialogue of the white society. Then the women are getting more jobs, and the man is taking demands trying to take the manhood from the woman that’s happening every day. A woman could be an owner of a business, and she can uplift her man the same way, but the independence is so great and so financially comfortable, they don’t do that. That’s not even in their minds. It’s not even kept in their mind to support their men.
FJ: There’s a lot of narrative about being independent, and strong and not needing a man: you think that’s part of the dividing and conquering?
Dr. Ali: Of course, it is outright, pure slavery. Modern day to 2000, a 21st century slavery, that’s what it is. Still the same, it has not changed. Now, the thing that’s changed is that humanity is opening up for equality. And that’s all over the world. people’s rights, people’s feelings favorably. This is why a lot of countries right now are under dictatorship. They’re taking the money and not giving it to the people. And we need a Robin Hood right now, we need a Robin Hood, to take from the rich and give to the poor. But not exactly in that manner, we should be able to make money and give to the poor, which is a part of our life of charity. When our religions say give to the poor and support the people who can afford. We’ve given you more than I’ve given in my new book just coming out.
FJ: Like there’s like a whole new book about to come out.
Dr. Ali: Good. I’m saying you’re giving me ideas.
FJ: What was the most difficult thing or the most difficult truth when you came to the decision that you were going to divorce Ali? Well, maybe before even before the divorce, what was the most difficult thing to handle to accept? The most difficult truth to starting a new journey?
Dr. Ali: The truth of it is, the more I got into my religion, I saw that I wasn’t going to be with him. And I tried to give it more time, so I wouldn’t just be rushing off too quickly. And I tried to see if he could redeem himself, and redeem myself. And I didn’t see me, the more I got into my religion, the more I saw me not being with it was my sign right there. And that broke my heart. That broke my heart.
So, I said, well, I just have to sacrifice that person. Because there’s so much in the world that I want to do for people. And I can’t do it with my husband, I have to do without him. That’s when I knew I felt freer. We were a team. We were a perfect team at one time. And his direction, his focus was on silly stuff. And I couldn’t go that route. I couldn’t just let that overwhelm what I wanted in life. And if I have to give up my husband in order for that to work, I’m just gonna have to do it. You see, you have to realize I want to grow in life. I want to grow to the highest point of my life, helping people, helping the world and helping myself. And some people just don’t want to go all the way up to the top with you.
Sometimes they give up, and they get tired, and they’re satisfied where they are. But I believe in growth continuously. Having grown my children, I want them to grow and grow and grow. Don’t stop growing, as long as you’re alive you should never stop bettering yourself. Never stop. You know, helping others never stopped making a difference. Making a change. Never stop; sacrificing your own faith and your own beliefs, you should never have to sacrifice that. And if it looks like I can be with him, because I gave him time. It just didn’t work.
FJ: So one of the things that was hard for me when I was reading that made me feel hurt for you was when you went to your mother and explained what was happening in the marriage, and her reaction was just stay with him. She encouraged you to stay, because as you said, because she had a happy marriage, and she believed Ali could do no wrong.
Dr. Ali: My mother didn’t go up against what I went up against. She didn’t know how to react to that. She’s never been where I was at. And thank God she hasn’t. So, I know my mother has had any confrontation like that. She never had a man that cheated on her. She never even saw it in real life. My mother, all she knows is to stick by your man. And then, yes, she’s absolutely right. I should stick by my man. But you have to be on the same level as your man, we have to have the same goals, the same outcome and the strength in holding the family together. And he didn’t have that. So, she was saying, Don’t listen to him, just stick with your man no matter what. And see, I can’t do that.
FJ: How did you manage to defy that?
Dr. Ali: Because I’m better than that. I’m better than that. I don’t deserve that. I do not. I know that I’m a woman. I know God gave me freedom. God has given me blessings of a family. And I know that God doesn’t want me to stay with somebody that’s not going to go on the right path. It’s just not right. And I don’t advise any woman to stick by her man when her man is not sticking by her.
I’ve seen women sticking by their men who ended up destroying their mental health. I’ve seen women being married to men who did the same they did to me, doing it to them. I’ve seen them get overweight, get obese, get diabetes and die. I’ve seen women go through that. And I tried to tell them, You shouldn’t stick by that person. He’s not with you. He is not supporting you. He’s disrespecting you. So, you don’t stay with a man who’s disrespecting you. So, it breaks your family? Just get married again. Because it will give you time to get married again.
But some just will not … Well, I don’t want to, they’re like my mother. They want to stick and don’t go. But see, my mother had a good man. See, that’s the difference between the tools. My father, my mother had a good man. My father was a good man. He didn’t disrespect my mother. He never went away from my mother and go with other women. And although she never experienced that, and I’m glad she’s never experienced, she has no clue what that feels like. And she didn’t even believe me when I told her. She said no, he couldn’t do that to you. He didn’t do it, and she didn’t even believe it. She didn’t believe it. She said no, don’t worry about it. Just stick with them.
FJ: Were you upset in the moment when you realized she didn’t believe you?
Dr. Ali: It broke my heart. But I understood what she said. But she didn’t understand what she was saying. But because my husband wasn’t like her husband, every man is different.
FJ: It feels like part of a forgiveness journey is also to forgive your mother for not knowing any better.
Dr. Ali: I forgave her a long time ago. My mother is old school, but the men aren’t like the men she used to come up with. So, I forgave her for a lot of things.
FJ: But did you realize in the moment that she was just coming from that old school place? Or did it take you a little while before you knew Your mom just didn’t know any better?
Dr. Ali: The only thing that I can say about that is that she never experienced what I was going through, so how would she know? I’m gonna have to do this on my own. God showed me the way. My mother just didn’t know. I forgave her a long time ago. Your mother will do things that you don’t want her to do. Sometimes they do things they don’t realize they’re doing, because everybody has issues with their lives. They go through something in their lives. And sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad.
And believe me, it cost me a lot. I’m just thankful that I came out sane, because if I had allowed that, it would have just destroyed me. It did at first, because I had nowhere to turn. And so, I just started reading on my religion, and it kind of helped me. I started getting stronger with it. A lot of things made sense when I started reading the Quran. It made sense to me. And my father said, “Whatever you do, follow your mind. Follow your own mind.” God will show me the way. That’s important. My father always told me, “don’t listen to anybody else. Just listen to yourself. Because God will show you the way. Listen, whatever you want to do in life, just do it. Don’t ever make your lips form to say, I shoulda woulda coulda. Do it.”
FJ: Sounds like your father and my father were very similar.
Dr. Ali: Yeah, my father. He didn’t say much. But when he spoke, I listened. Whatever he says, Listen. That was my dad. He didn’t say much. But the little he said meant a lot to me. I figured it out.
FJ: I mentioned that part of your book was so moving for me. Because I think my own mother, I could recognize my mother stayed in a relationship. I love my father. But he was not an easy person to live with. And I could see in her that she felt she carried that responsibility, she would turn to her own mother. And what she got back was, it’s your job as a woman to make things work. And in my mind growing up, I always thought, well, that’s not fair. Because if she’s not being treated fairly, why she was expected to be the one to fix it? So, when I read that, I really admired that lesson and forgiveness, but also that you followed your own mind. And I kind of wish she had done that for herself earlier, rather than later.
Dr. Ali: This book is also a lesson for younger mothers. and the things they go through. Because if I were to tell you the things that Ali did to me, that would destroy him. He would be destroyed, like Bill Cosby was destroyed. Even though Bill Cosby did all these educational things, and very heroic things for Black history and Black with knowledge and Black education. He did all of that. But he was totally destroyed by the real things that he did. And it’s almost as if that didn’t even exist, and see, what I learned from Muhammad and the pain that I went through. it’s not even in this book. None of it is in this book.
FJ: Wow. Because I read that and I saw a lot in there.
Dr. Ali: That is nothing. If I wrote what he really did to me, you wouldn’t like Muhammad Ali. So, what I learned from him, was something that only I learned from him. And God learned from him. And it’s not my business to tell my personal business to others. This is enough. This right here was totally enough to elaborate on, because he did it in public. So, I can explain what he did in public. And all I can do is, I feel sorry for him. People do things they don’t want to do. I did things I never wanted to do. But I’m not going to tell anybody about it. But I’ll tell you what, I’m gonna forgive him because not only me, all people make mistakes in their lifetime to learn. Especially when you take the mistakes and become a better person. You learn from those mistakes.
FJ: Do you think eventually as he got closer to getting older that he learned from his mistakes?
Dr. Ali: I don’t know. Because I’m not there and I’m not in his head. But I know that nobody goes without learning something, whether they do something about it or not. You do learn from it. And he will always be a person that I was able to express myself to. Things I wanted to do for him, I did for him. And we worked together as a team. And that was a lifetime of notoriety that a lot of people experience with me now. I’m known for being his wife. I’m known for being by his side when he needed me. And I learned a lot from him as well.
I met a lot of people that I would have never met before. People I’ve seen on TV that I admire. So, I learned a lot too. But this book is a book of forgiveness and healing. I healed from this book, this is the greatest thing I’ve ever done. And I thank him for opening that door. And I thank him for teaching me, even though it was negative. But I learned from it. We were a great couple, we were a power couple. And nobody can ever take that away from us.
Because in reality, you’re looking at a person who is being taught, but it’s because of my backbone being with him. And I supported him when he needed me. So, I’ve grown a lot. I’m a more famous person because of it. And I thank God for bringing us together. I don’t regret any of it. So, I’m just thankful to God that I learned from it. And I feel from it. The healing was great. But I didn’t start healing until I forgave.
FJ: It sounds like it should be the first step.
Dr. Ali: I was really in a bad place. I experienced some bad things. But once I forgave him, everything just opened up for me. It wasn’t about what was happening to me. It was things that were happening for me. And this is a beautiful thing. And he’ll always be my friend, he will always be my champion. And, oh, he’ll always be the father of my children. So, I want him to go down in history as having been my beloved husband. A good man. And I’m glad about the book. I’m really glad I should have done it. If I had known I had got this much healing out of it, I would have done it a long time ago. But it was too painful. It takes time for everything, right?
FJ: I know that you were really the backbone, the PR person for Muhammad Ali.
Dr. Ali: The poem writer.
FJ: Were there a couple of lines or poems or things that he was so good at, saying those things?
Dr. Ali: He never could remember the one I gave him. He would wing it. He even added stuff to it. In the last Ali movie, he would start off with my poem. My poem starts off, I am the greatest. That was the first poem I wrote when I was 14 years old, when he was getting ready to fight Sonny Liston.
Say this is the legend of Cassius Clay,
the most beautiful fighter in the world today.
This kid’s fight is great.
He’s got speed and endurance,
but if you try and decide to fight him, increase your insurance.
This kid’s got a left, this kid’s got a right,
look at the kid carry the fight.
All the crowd is getting frantic. There’s not enough room.
There Ali loves the boom.
That’s the upgrade. Who would have thought when they came to the fight
they’d see a spook satellite,
and like no one would dream when they put down their money,
they’d see a total eclipse of the Sonny.
To buy the book on Amazon Prime: https://a.co/d/beq4yfj