Muhammad Ali’s ties to Northeast Ohio stretch back decades. That includes an Akron man’s special encounter with the legend when he was a 13-year-old fan.
Daryl Evege said a 30-minute phone call with Ali in 1979 changed his life.
“I still remember him, when he got on the phone he said ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. This is none other than Muhammad Ali,’” Evege recalled on Saturday, following news of Ali's passing.
Evege made front page news back in 1979 after he visited Ali’s Chicago home and left his phone number with a housekeeper. And later, Ali took the time to call and spend time on the phone offering words of encouragement to a young fan.
“I flipped out, man. I was just jumping up and down,” Evege said. “I’ll take that to the grave with me. I’ll never forget it.”
Evege said Ali encouraged him to take up boxing and to never give up on his dreams.
He said his idol broke down barriers for little black boys just like him.
“Ever since I was 8-years-old, this man was my idol because he stood for so much. And it was just emotional this morning when I heard that he had passed away; because I called my mom and I said, ‘Mom, I got to go to the funeral in Louisville because one thing I regret, I never did get to shake his hand and say thank you. Thank you for being an inspiration to me and a positive role model.’” Evege said tearing up. "It’s hard out here sometimes for black men, but Ali was the greatest. And he will always be the greatest in my life, man.”
Ali knew northeast Ohio well. In Cleveland on Saturday, members of the Masjid Bilal mosque on Euclid Avenue held a service for a man who, over the years, used his celebrity to help them fundraise.
“He’s a part of our community,” Alan Seifullah said. "He’s a part of the world’s community. He’s a part of everybody’s community.”
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