Sugar Ray Leonard was in Minneapolis for a celebrity roast of Scott LeDoux at the City Center Marriot to raise money for the charity Wishes and More on Sunday, May 3. Looking well, articulating himself eloquently, and politely and respectfully granting Boxers and Writers Magazine a quick interview before signing autographs, Leonard lived up to his legend as a classic American.
“Giving back, it costs nothing,” Leonard said. “Whether to use my celebrity to raise a few more thousand, that’s wonderful, because I think that a champion is defined not just by what he does in the ring but by what he does outside the ring.”
Leonard paused to contemplate a further articulation of his feelings about doing charity work, finally uttering the simple conclusion, “It’s my responsibility.”
Discussing education and reading, Leonard identified the acquisition and utilization of knowledge as one of his most central values.
“It’s never too late for education, it’s never too late to learn, to better yourself,” he said; “whether it’s reading or whatever the case may be. I think that—I don’t think, I know—education is the key, it’s what has brought me to where I am today. Because you need that education, I stress upon that to my kids all the time.”
When asked about his reading preferences and what books have influenced him, he made a recommendation.
“I read autobiographies,” he said. “I read Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane. I love autobiographies, I love being inspired.”
It was very interesting and even motivating to hear Sugar Ray Leonard tell me he read and was influenced by Mark Mathabane’s Kaffir Boy, because it was recommended to me in 1987 during my first term of college. “Kaffir” is a derogatory term for black people in Afrikaner, the language of White South African’s. Kaffir Boy is a black man’s story about coming of age in Apartheid South Africa. I never did get around to reading it, but now that Sugar Ray Leonard has made the recommendation I intend to do so as soon as I can, and I invite you to do the same.
Interestingly enough, when Sugar Ray Leonard fought in the latter part of his career, he wore boxing trunks with the word “Amandla” embroidered across the front of the beltline. The word is Zulu for “Force, strength, vigor,” according to Webster’s Online Dictionary. I remember the TV announcers explaining that Leonard wore the word in solidarity with the fight to end Apartheid. For those of you who don’t remember, Apartheid, the segregation of the indigenous blacks of South Africa into ghetto townships and the denial of many basic human rights to them by the Anglo-Dutch colonial whites, did not end until 1991 when President F.W. DeClerk lifted the ban on the African National Congress political party and negotiated an interracial government between it and his own National Party. That’s when the International Olympic Committee lifted a ban of South African athletes from Olympic competition. In1994 Nelson Mandela, a former boxer, a lawyer, and a political prisoner for 27 years, became the country’s first black president.
Jazz great Miles Davis also released an album by the name Amandla in 1989. Another American classic, the late Miles Davis cut A Tribute to Jack Johnson in 1971.
It is of course Davis’ homage to the first black Heavyweight Champion of the world, Jack Johnson. The two arrangements on the album, “Right Off” and “Yesternow” are top notch expressions of musical genius I strongly recommend to everyone.