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Muhammad Ali’s words are transformed into ‘Ali Prose’ to inspire kids to become poets

The contest will award scholarships for the best submissions by high school students

Everyone knows there was more, much more, to the late, great boxing champion Muhammad Ali than his fiery moves inside the ring. His sharp tongue, rhyming words and singsong continue to move fans nearly 60 years after his first fight.

Ali’s prose, a genre of its own, is so influential that Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA) has used The Greatest’s words to encourage black high school seniors in Detroit; Oakland, California; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; Milwaukee; Baltimore; and New York to express their inner Ali through the organization’s first poetry contest, Ali Prose.

One of his most popular chants, which he and trainer Drew Bundini Brown commonly used to hype the boxer up before and during fights, serves as the name of CBMA’s annual event: Rumble Young Man, Rumble.

“As many people will recall, not only was Ali a great fighter, some people say he was one of the first rappers,” said Steve Vassor, director of Rumble Young Man, Rumble. “He actually created what some categorized as pretty bad poetry, but it was poetry nonetheless. You’ll find that he’s a visual artist, you’ll find that he’s a cultural icon, you’ll find that he’s a civil rights fighter.”

Within the contest, the theme of the submitted poems should honor Ali’s legacy and include one of his six core principles: confidence, conviction, dedication, giving, respect and spirituality. And they shouldn’t be more than 20 lines long.

“What we want to do is get poetry from young men across the country inspired by Ali and his six core principles and the idea of black male achievement, then pick the best of the bunch that comes through,” Vassor said. “Again, it’s just another way to extol those who are leading the site for black men and boys around the country in whatever way they rumble. We’re hoping to lift up some poetry that will do what Bundini and Ali did for each other in terms of getting them amped for the fight.”

Poetry submissions, which are due April 23, will be judged by poet, publisher and educator Haki R. Madhubuti and international youth slam poetry champions Philly Youth Poetry Movement. All three winners will receive scholarships with a combined value of $1,750 and have their profiles featured on CBMA’s website.

Vassor said the Ali theme during National Poetry Month was a perfect match. Besides the contest’s thought-provoking submissions, Vassor hopes the conversation surrounding CBMA and Rumble Young Man, Rumble’s efforts will continue to help make the lives of young black men an ongoing priority.

“We would like to develop Rumble into more of a lifestyle so that it’s not just an annual event that only 150 people can attend,” Vassor said. “Our intention is to create a series of engagements and activities across the year. This poetry contest is one way to extend this idea of Rumble beyond one annual event.”

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.