One Took a Stand, One Took a Knee: Muhammad Ali's family discusses his legacy with ABC7

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As the police-involved killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., continues to spark massive protests against racial injustice, this week happens to be the fourth annual observance of the death of one of the world's greatest champions of racial justice. In fact, one of the greatest champions period, Muhammad Ali.

ABC7 News Weather Anchor Spencer Christian had the chance to speak to Ali's daughter Khaliah and her son, Jacob Ali-Wertheimer, about the protests, the interaction with a white police officer that started Muhammad Ali's career and the legacy they see evident in the peaceful protests of athletes like Colin Kaepernick.

WATCH: Muhammad Ali's family discusses his legacy with ABC7
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ABC7 News Weather Anchor Spencer Christian had the chance to speak to Ali's daughter Khaliah and her son, Jacob Ali-Wertheimer, about the protests, the interaction with a white police officer that started Muhammad Ali's career.



Here's a full transcript of their conversation:

Spencer Christian: So Khaliah, let me start with you and ask you what your feelings are, as you watch this demonstration of outrage against social injustice?

Khaliah Ali: You know, the energy is palpable. And as I sit here next to my son, I reflect on the fact that my grandmother sat next to my father and so on. These issues are systemic, and it's gone on way too long, way too many lives have been lost.

I think it's really important. You know, that we stand with the protesters, the people who are using their voice to make sure that this country becomes what it must become.

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Spencer Christian: Well, Jacob, you're a senior at Harvard, you're a millennial, if you will, what is the mood among your peers, because young people worldwide seem to be really fueling this, this demonstration, this protest.

Jacob Ali-Wertheimer: I think something that we see throughout time, is that it is often on the younger generation to take lead in terms of protesting and speaking out against injustice and violence. I think we've seen it throughout history, and we're seeing it again. And I think my generation has always been one that's been very vocal about ensuring equality for people of all different colors or religious beliefs or backgrounds or sexual preferences. And I think that we're really seeing that it's time to make a change. As we get older and come into our own in this world becomes our world. We want to make sure it's a place that we think is just and we think aligns with our values.

Khaliah Ali: I think it's especially important on the heels of a significant election. You know, my son was born to Barack Obama. I couldn't imagine my world, my perception of the world that I've been born to having a president that, regardless of any political orientation or background was a black man named Barack Obama. And so he starts with his foot forward in the world knowing what's possible. And I think that's what's so beautiful about this. It's a future unforeseen, that they're grasping with their own hands and creating.

Spencer Christian: As you watch the protests unfold, does it worry you that the message of the protest might get lost or overshadowed by the incidents of looting and violence?

Jacob Ali-Wertheimer: I think what I worry about particularly is how the media chooses to portray what the media chooses to focus on. I want to make sure that we continue to focus on the actual message, especially when, you know, I think that we've seen a lot of outside involvement in the protesting we don't know necessarily who was responsible for what when it comes to the looting and the violence. I think it's unfair to put blame on the protesters when we don't know exactly how much culpability is on any singular group.

Khaliah Ali: I think additionally, it's also not fair to expect the protesters themselves or the protest itself to evoke the change that we need. Policy. We need to get out and vote, we need to elect the officials that are going to help us garner this change, little things, fill out the census so you can be counted. You know, I think this is definitely the first step in the right direction in the conversation, I want to believe has been altered forever.

Jacob Ali-Wertheimer: And we need to continue to hold such officials accountable, to make sure that they actually follow through and enact the change that this nation needs

Spencer Christian: The two of you have a great friendship, an alliance, with a modern day athlete who, whose livelihood was taken away because much like Muhammad Ali had the courage to take a stand against racial injustice, and that's former 49er's quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Tell us about your friendship with him and what you're trying to achieve.

Jacob Ali-Wertheimer: Colin has always been, you know, basically family to us. There really is no distinction. I think there's nobody better today who embodies my grandfather's spirit and his willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of what's right for justice and for African Americans in this country. In Colin Kaepernick, you know, he, took a knee to police brutality and my grandfather stood against racial injustice. And although those were physically different positions, ideologically, politically, socially, I believe they're very much the same. And because of that, we really strongly support Colin and everything he's done.

Spencer Christian: And now, just last week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued an apology to black players not having listened to their complaints years ago about racial injustice and profiling, all the things that Colin Kaepernick was trying to call attention to when he took a knee. Will that be effective in bringing about any change?

Khaliah Ali: First of all, I think he needs to apologize to Colin Kaepernick directly. That was an incomplete statement. And for me, without really wholly speaking the truth. We're not going to move forward the way we need to be. The NFL still has 70% players that are African American, three black coaches, um, you know, broad sweeps need to take place within the corporate atmosphere, you know, quality and policy. So, no, I think it's a first step forward. I'll acknowledge that, but without a direct apology to Colin Kaepernick. I don't think so.

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Spencer Christian: You know, it seems ironic to me that the protests we're seeing right now stemmed from an interaction between a black man and a white police officer. And yet, going back to the young Muhammad Ali a 10-year-old Cassius Clay, if you will, it was an interaction he had with a white police officer that led to the amazing career of Muhammad Ali. Tell us about that.

Jacob Ali-Wertheimer: Well, when my grandfather was a little boy, he had his red bike and like all little boys you know they love their bike and riding around town until someone, someday, someone stole his bike. And it was a white police officer who approached my grandfather. He was very disheveled and he asked him what was wrong and my grandfather told him, you know, I'm going to look the guy who stole my bike. And the officer told him, if you want to protect the things that are important to you, you need to learn to fight for it. And that officer was the he was the coach of the police athletic league. He's a boxing coach. And he took my grandfather under his wing for six years. And he taught him boxing and he taught him how to box and it was that interaction that really actually formed and began my grandfather's career. And I think that's a really important story to tell because it's a statement of what this nation must become. And that, you know, that's what policing in this country must be in anything less is unacceptable, and we need to move forward towards that picture of a brighter future.

Spencer Christian: Going forward, and progress seems to come so slowly, so painfully sometimes. Your grandfather, your father, Khaliah, won an Olympic gold medal representing his country in 1960 and came home to Louisville, Kentucky, still unable to go into a restaurant, movie theater, a public playground. How do you even describe the pain that that caused him?

Khaliah Ali: I think that my father obviously was in a great deal of pain. I think what's important about that was the empowerment and the focus and the drive that came from that moment, how he was able to take something that technically could have been a negative. And he could have just stopped right there and decided to make it not only about himself, but about others, and eventually the world.

Spencer Christian:
So what needs to change first. As we look at this growing protest that has not only spread across the United States, but around the world, and it's a diverse group of people protesting, all colors, all ethnicities, what needs to change first and are you optimistic that finally we're going to see meaningful change?

Jacob Ali-Wertheimer: I think I'm optimistic that we will see change to some extent, but what needs to happen is I believe white America needs to stand up. It needs to say that enough is enough. Because this is not a black problem. Black people are not the problem in this country. It's not our fault that racial injustice and police brutality and mass incarceration occur. It's a problem with the oppressor that is inflicted upon the oppressed. And I think white America needs to step up and address the issues of racial hatred that exist, whether or not it's within yourself, but in your community, certainly. And for them to free that community from the chains of hatred and racism that still exists. We need people to listen, we need people to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, because right now, the discomfort is the truth.

Spencer Christian: I think there are many people I hear this a lot, who want to have conversations about race. And now I'm talking about many white Americans, who wants to have conversations about race, who see what's going on and realize that we have made a lot of progress in fighting racial injustice, and yet, you talked about discomfort, they feel uncomfortable because they don't know where to start that conversation. What's the first thing you say? The first thing you do to show that you really want to play a role in advancing the cause of racial justice? What do you say to that person who doesn't know where to start, or what to say?

Khaliah Ali: I think more now than ever, we see how how precious and valuable our words are and how we choose to communicate and interact with each other has a deep and lasting effect. I saw a sign someone was holding up in London on a broadcast and just simply said, "I understand that I may never understand, but know that I stand with you." I think it's an act of surrender and humility and an open heart willingness to actually not just hear what people are saying, but profoundly listen. Humbly listen.

Spencer Christian: I really appreciate having the two of you join us this morning. Before you go away. Just tell me what's the next step for for Colin Kaepernick, your dear friend, does he want to play football again?

Khaliah Ali: I have no answers. I have no answers other than we continue to support and love Colin and Nessa and everything that they do and their organization, Know Your Rights, and I wish them nothing but love.

Spencer Christian: Well Khaliah and Jacob thank you so much for joining me today.

Jacob Ali-Wertheimer: Thank you for having me.

Spencer Christian: Again, as I look in your faces, I see Muhammad Ali, who was a friend of mine and I would love to call you to my friends now as well. Thanks for being with us. Thank you.
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