Saturday, June 4, 2016

MSD & Muhammad Ali

Of all the many protests I have been involved in, none was more fun than the one in September 1990, when we marched Muhammad Ali up into the Metropolitan Sewer District.  And actually, we sort of tricked The Greatest into participating in the protest.

      Our core group, consisting of black contractors and activists like Eddie Hasan, Anthony Shahid, Tiahmo Rauf, and Larry Ali, had been protesting against MSD's lack of minority inclusion for a couple of weeks, including one action in which we barged up into MSD's office in the middle of the work day, chanting protest songs and being, frankly, unpeaceably disruptive. 

     Through their contacts with the Nation of Islam, some members of the group had arranged for Ali to come to town to do a book signing and make some public appearances.  We were all with him in the limo after picking him up at the airport, and we were on our way to a hotel where he would rest up before his engagements when we hatched the idea to take him to MSD.  I don't recall us exactly telling him that he was about to join a protest action, just that we had to make a stop before going to the hotel to meet with some folks we had an issue with.  He good naturedly obliged.

     When we arrived at MSD we just started walking through the office, saying we wanted to meet with the Director.  The look of shock and amazement on the faces of the MSD employees as the Champ walked past their desks with us as his entourage was absolutely priceless.  It was hard not to laugh.  All the work came to a standstill as all the hundreds of workers became transfixed with his presence.

     The Director came out of his office because of the commotion, and was just totally dumbstruck at the sight of Ali.  He hastily arranged a meeting room, and called in his top staff.  On one side of the table sat the MSD officials - all white - and on the other side we sat - with the greatest of all times at our side.

     Some back and forth arguing then ensued, with us laying out the discrimination by MSD and our demands, and the MSD officials showing little resistance.  Ali was completely silent throughout, as though he was studying the situation, until the end.  With a smile and twinkle in his eye, he then pointed his big balled fist at the Director and said in a quiet, almost gentle voice: "Give them everything they want."

     Muhammad Ali, my hero since almost as far back as I can remember, travelled and was known all over the world.  And he never forgot his people.

Eric E. Vickers, Attorney and Activist.

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