Role Models & Heroes: Muhammed Ali (2019)

The following essay on role model Muhammed Ali was written by Leo T., a middle schooler, enrolled in City Congregation’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah program. Students spend a year and a half researching their heritage, values and beliefs, and write on a Jewish subject of their choice, their major project. The process improves both the student’s writing and critical thinking skills, as well as his/her self confidence and overall maturity

A role model is a person who you look up to and wish emulate. My role model is Muhammad Ali. I will begin by explaining to you who Muhammed Ali was, and what he did. He is a good role model because he was peaceful, persistent and passionate. He was also a strong civil rights leader. These are good qualities because he was not out to hurt people, and would not back down from what he was proud of and believed in.

Muhammed Ali was a professional boxing champion, but before he achieved this distinction, he was young Cassius Marcellus Clay Junior. That was the name he was given when he was born on January 17, 1942. He was named after his father, Cassius Clay Senior and before that, the staunch 19th century abolitionist of the same name.

In October, 1954, his new bike was stolen, and he was very angry. He told an off-duty policeman he wanted to go find the guy who took it but was told he should take boxing lessons first so that he could defend himself. He decided he would train and over months of vigorous workouts, he became very skilled and soon entered the ring. On September 6, 1960, he won a gold medal in the Olympics for boxing.

He thought the United States and the world would finally recognize him for his talent and treat him with respect, but he was disappointed to find out that regardless of his gold medal status, he was still treated as inferior to others in America simply because he was black.  Later in his career, he defeated boxing giants like Sonny Liston, George Foreman, and Joe Frazier.

On February 28, 1964, Cassius Clay converted to Islam, joined the Nation of Islam, and changed his name to Muhammad Ali, a Muslim name.  He did this because he wanted to stand against Islamophobia, the dislike of Muslims and the religion of Islam and because he did not want to keep the name of a white person, no matter how respectable they were.

On February 17, 1966, he learned he was eligible to be drafted right away to go fight in the Vietnam War. But, he refused to go and later was fined, stripped of his titles, and sent to prison. This cost him some of the prime fighting years of his youth, yet he still would not back down.  Three and a half years later, the Supreme Court voted 8 to 0 that Ali should be set free, and he was. He went back to boxing but eventually quit and happily lived out the rest of his life. He died on June 3rd, 2016. Sadly, there is one thing he never accomplished: he never found his bike.

Let me now explain why Muhammad Ali is my role model. The first reason I chose him is that he was peaceful, and not out to hurt people, despite the fact that he was a boxer. One example of that is when he was going to be drafted to fight in Vietnam, he said he wouldn’t go. He said that he didn’t want to go 10,000 miles to kill some Asian man he’d never met. Being against the Vietnam War showed that he was a pacifist. It may seem very unlikely that a boxer, a person who fights for a living, could ever be peaceful, but he was. He said he fought in the ring because the people in the ring knew they were there to fight him, and it was a fair and honest fight.  In contrast, those involved in the war in Vietnam were forced to fight in order to defend their country and their leaders.  They were not professional boxers like he was, trained to fight in the ring.

Another reason I chose Muhammad Ali as my role model is that he was persistent. Once, in a fight with Ken Norton, he broke his jaw, and it really hurt. He could taste blood in his mouth and heard a sound “like two plates being struck together.” Still, though, Ali didn’t quit and finished the fight. Another way Muhammad Ali demonstrated persistence is when he refused to back down about going to war after he said he wouldn’t fight in Vietnam. Even though Ali was fined, sent to jail, and even stripped of his heavyweight championship title, he refused to go to Vietnam, and this definitely showed conviction and persistence. A third example is the one I began with – that he became a boxer because someone stole his bike, and he went through all that hard boxing training just to get the guy who stole his bike. Because he kept up his courage despite the consequences, he showed persistence.

I also chose Muhammad Ali as my role model because he was very passionate about his work. He put a lot of effort into boxing and he was very proud of his success. Proof of his effort is that his high school principal said that even though Ali’s grades were bad he wanted his students to be more like him. This is because he wanted to show his students that “if you want to accomplish something in life, you have to work hard and you must be committed. There’s no substitute for that.” Such hard work and commitment were signs of his passion.

Finally, I chose Ali because his peacefulness, persistence, and passion shone through in his work as a civil rights leader. During his lifetime, he was discriminated against for being a black man. He repeatedly stood up for problems like racial drafting, which was how black people were more likely to be drafted. Normally, some people might be drafted before others depending on things like whether they had a job, were in school, or had money, but even a black person with all these things was more likely to be drafted than a white person, and that was not fair. He said that he wouldn’t go fight in Vietnam because they were not his enemies. His real enemies were here, he said, right here in the U.S, and that it was the white people in the country at the time who were too racist to give black people simple human rights. A few examples of discrimination were separate water fountains for black and whites, or not being able to go to the same schools.


Ali was so committed to civil rights that an award was named after him called the Muhammad Ali Legacy award. One recipient of the award is Colin Kaepernick, a star NFL quarterback. Kaepernick received the award for deciding to kneel during the national anthem in protest against police brutality and to support black rights. Like Ali, he felt that it is not right to go along with something that represents oppression, even if it would cost him millions of dollars and the prime years of his athletic career.  Ali has definitely left a mark on the civil rights world of today.

All in all, Muhammed Ali was peaceful, persistent, and passionate, and he had all the qualities of a good role model and a great person. Over the course of his life, he accomplished great feats of both physical and mental strength, as well as becoming a face for civil rights.   Muhammad Ali will be remembered throughout the world for the indelible mark he left on us. I believe I have some of these same qualities and there are other qualities of his that I wish to develop. If we all followed Ali’s lead and his characteristics, we could work to make a better world. All of these characteristics are the reasons he is my role model.