By JP Acosta
For the first time in Illinois, and United States history, Martin Luther King Jr. and Muhammad Ali were honored on the same day, commemorating not only Martin Luther King Jr. Day observances, but also the Jan. 17 birthdays of both men.
“A Deliberate Dialogue,” hosted at the Chicago History Museum by the Illinois Muslim Civic Coalition, celebrated the inaugural Ali Day as well as Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The panel, moderated by Aisha El-Amin, associate vice chancellor for equity and belonging at the University of Illinois at Chicago, emphasized racial equality and voting rights. Panelists included Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton and Maryum Ali, Muhammad Ali’s daughter.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, leader of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, was not in attendance, but shared stories via pre-recorded video, of his experiences with King and Ali.
Hundreds of people joined the panel via Facebook Live or over Zoom as the panelists discussed keeping the fight for civil rights and social justice that both Ali and King fought for.
“I know a lot of people are disenchanted with voting, and I get that way as well,” Maryum Ali said during the event. “But policies and laws are going to impact us whether we are disenchanted or not.” Ali continued by saying people should educate themselves and their children about “why there are racial inequities in the world and learning about their own history.”
Stratton said people who aren’t in the White House or positions of elected office can still make major impacts in government.
“It’s not just the elected officials who are going to make change,” she said. “It really comes down to the people believing that there is something that they can do. We need people to march and protest and use their gifts.”
Greg Kelley, president of SEIU Healthcare, the union for health care and home care workers in the Midwest said collective action is important to continue to work that Ali and King fought hard for.
“Dr. King himself was an organizer,” Kelley said. “Dr. King challenged us to continue to advocate on behalf of these issues.”
Both Ali and King fought for civil rights, but until the Illinois General Assembly passed the resolution approving of the day, no other state in the U.S. has recognized Ali along with King.
“Muhammad Ali set a fantastic example for us all by showing how to be dedicated to our passions and courageous in our convictions,” Illinois state Sen. Laura Ellman (D-Springfield), told Fox News Chicago. “Through both his athletic career and his philanthropic work, he spent a lifetime working for the betterment of society as a whole.”
The state passed the resolution in conjunction with the Illinois Muslim Civic Coalition, whose members advocated for the creation of the day.
Everyone on the panel urged the listeners to continue to “fight the good fight” for King and Ali, who have both died. However, they all echoed doing it as a community, and fighting institutional racism together.
“The work hasn’t ended,” Dilara Sayeed of the Illinois Muslim Civic Coalition said in her opener. “But we are brothers and sisters in this work.”
JP Acosta is a graduate student at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter @acosta32_jp.