Matthew Saad Muhammad is entering the ring for his next fight, as an advocate in the battle against homelessness. He's the spokesperson for One Step Away's "Knock Out Homelessness" campaign, working to raise awareness and benefit One Step Away, Philadelphia's street newspaper, in its mission to end homelessness in Philadelphia. Saad Muhammad has hosted the annual Knock Out Homelessness fundraiser each year since 2011. Find out how you can help Knock Out Homelessness here.
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By Matthew Saad Muhammad (as told to Kevin Roberts, One Step Away editor)
I've taken on a lot of fights in my career. This is the next one: I'm asking you to help me Knock Out Homelessness.
My name is Matthew Saad Muhammad. I am the former light-heavyweight champion of the world, and a member of the Boxing Hall of Fame. I'm honored to be part of the great fighting tradition of Philadelphia, and I'm proud to have received the key to this great city from four different mayors. Many of my experiences outside the ring have pushed me to become an advocate for people who don't have a voice. Homeless does not mean worthless. Believe me, I should know.
When I was five years old, I was living with an aunt after my mother died. They did not have the money to care for me. My aunt told my older brother to take me out on the street and leave me there. He took me out in the city, where I wouldn't know where I was or how to find my way home, and ran away from me. I tried to run after him. I ran as fast as I could. I was five years old, and I was running for my life. But I couldn't keep up.
I was alone on the streets. I was so scared. A police officer found me, and asked me my name. I told her I didn't know my name. Catholic Services took me in. The nuns named me Matthew Franklin. Matthew, from the Bible, and Franklin because they found me on the Ben Franklin Parkway.
People have often asked me what was my greatest triumph. I tell them it was surviving what I went through as a kid. I bounced around in foster homes. I was a small kid, and other kids used to beat me up on the way to school. They were picking on the orphan. I eventually went to the Juniper Street Gym in South Philadelphia to learn how to fight so I could defend myself. It was there I found my calling.
I was 17 years old when I saw my first fight, at the Legendary Blue Horizon. My amateur coach took me. The fighters were punishing each other like rock-em, sock-em robots. I could not believe people took that kind of punishment. My coach said to me: This is what it's going to be like, if you turn pro. To win, you have to condition yourself physically and mentally.
That's when I knew I would be good. Because I knew I could take punishment. I could take more pain, and more punishment, than the other guy. When I was champ, they called me "Miracle Matthew." I was famous for comebacks, for getting in trouble, for getting knocked down, but always coming back to win.
You can look on YouTube and watch me fight Yaqui Lopez in 1980. In the eighth round, Yaqui catches me with a right hand, and I'm in trouble. If you're counting, he hits me 71 consecutive times without me throwing a punch. This is why I hate to watch my old fights. All I can think is, "Oh, look at that man get hit." I always tell people who see it: Don't worry. This is how I fight.
Yaqui couldn't believe I could take the punishment, but I could. I weathered the round and came back. I knocked him down four times in the 14th round and won by knockout. Broke his nose, too. When it looks like I've taken the worst of it, and I'm coming back, you'll hear the announcer shout: Matthew is laughing at him! Look at him laugh! I used to laugh in the ring when I was hurt, laughing to get rid of the pain.
People thought I liked getting hit. Well, nobody likes to get hit. But I knew in my heart one absolutely true thing that I learned from my childhood:
Everybody hurts. Everybody gets hit. Everybody gets knocked down. The man who gets up, who has the strength to endure, to take the punishment and give some back – that's the man who has a chance to succeed.
It hurts me to see people who've lost that. I wanted to give people some inspiration, a sense of worth, of dignity. I wanted to give people some hope.
I trusted the wrong people with the money I made when I was champ, and I've had some tough times. But I'm still getting back up. I'm sure not alone – look around. People are having a tough time out there. They're not lazy. They're not stupid. They're not bad people. They've just lost hope. They're stopped fighting in life, because they've lost hope for something better. They've taken a fall somewhere, and they think they can't get back up.
That's why I'm proud to represent One Step Away, a program at Resources for Human Development that works to empower people, and give them the tools to rebuild themselves, helps them regain their self-esteem and their self-confidence. In One Step Away you'll read about a man named Andrew, who says: "One Step Away is a job for me. Now I can support my family and get basic necessities like food and clothes." There is a woman named Tauliba, who used the income she's earned to attain housing and care for her children. Tauliba said: "One Step Away is a lifesaver … One Step Away helps me teach my children you can do whatever you want if you believe in yourself, no matter what other people say about you."
If you're in need, you can't wait for someone else to help you. You have to do for yourself. It's just that some people don't know how, or they've forgotten, and that's where a program like One Step Away can help.
And that's how we'll Knock Out Homelessness. We'll help people help themselves. We'll help people get back up. Together, we can help people hope in their hearts. A homeless kid can become champion. A champion who's fallen can rise again. People can better themselves. Even if you've had a hard time in life, you can succeed. You have to have heart, and be strong.
You just have to keep getting back up.