Be the Challenger: How Muhammad Ali and NASA Reeled Me Back In

I’m not going to spend time talking about why I’ve stepped away from this blog for the past year. I’d rather talk about what brought me back.

Since Sandy Hook, since Trayvon, since Charlottesville, since [fill in your own moment of “whatthefuckishappeningtous”], I’ve been looking for people and ideas and groups which provide myself with hope and purpose. Along with my family; some dear friends; some small-but-mighty organizations within my community; music; nature, and writing, I found Common Power, and its educational branch, The Institute for Common Power, both of which I have written about.

For the last three years, I’ve gone deeper into action to protect and extend democracy, mostly through phone-banking and donations, but also writing letters to elected officials, and, last October, canvassing in my home state, North Carolina.

This is VA, not NC, but you get the idea–this kind of thing (photo by Charles Douglas, CP)

But canvassing requires travel, and phone-banking (besides being NO FUN) feels pretty limited. I was looking for other ways to plug in, when I tuned into Common Power’s 24-hour Teach-in for Truth in Education in Florida, and heard Dr. Yohuru Williams.

Dr. Williams is a History professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN, and founder of their Racial Justice Initiative. It was his part of that 24 hours of teaching that got me back to Wing’s World. He talked about two “challengers,” starting with NASA’s Challenger Space Shuttle, which exploded live on TV in 1986 (which many of us remember all too well).

R.I.P. (photo courtesy Wikipedia)

Dr. Williams reminded us how Ronald Reagan went on TV to tell American children the tragedy:

“We don’t hide our space program. We don’t keep secrets and cover things up. We do it all up front and in public. That’s the way democracy is, and we wouldn’t change it for a minute.”

His message: Ron DeSantis, anti-“woke” Republicans–are you LISTENING? Democracy means FACING UP TO BAD STUFF. Like, you know…U.S. History.

Dr. Williams closed by talking about Muhammad Ali, of whom actor/director Ed Begley Jr. said, “Ali’s secret was that he was always the challenger.”

Ali in 1976, filming The Greatest (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

And this historian/activist then looked at the camera and asked us listeners to find ways to continue to be the challenger. To do more than what we’ve been doing to help our country be its best self.

And I thought: okay. At the very least, something I can do is to expand Dr. Williams’ message.

So in the next few weeks, I’ll be highlighting some of the talks from that incredible 24 hours. I’ll be sharing, amplifying, extolling the messages I’m absorbing about how to help our country. And if just a few of you reading this decide to do the same, consider yourselves challengers too.