Blog Entry Culture of Safety, Health & Healing, Youth Development, Narrative Change

The Meaning & Magic of "Rumble Young Man, Rumble"

by Althea Dryden

Rumble, young man rumble. But first, love, young man, love.

This year, I was excited to know several first-time Rumblers. Reputation had them eager and curious, but I struggled when asked for my take on the event. It always became a description of what Rumble is not – not a conference, not a reunion, not a workshop, not even a gathering. Not wanting to take away from the mystery of their experience, I basically urged them to simply take it all in – all of it. Each day sculpts the experience in an unpredictable yet necessary way. 

I help plan and execute the annual convening for my organization, Cities United, so I deeply appreciate the dedication and commitment it takes to pull off an event like Rumble. This is a meal prepared without a recipe. The main ingredient is brought by the guests, so you never know what it will taste like, but you are certain all bellies will be filled. CBMA puts both its heart and its foot in this meal we call RYMR9!

It’s both the art of gathering and the craft of the hunt for that tasty mix of content and context, reverence and revelry. Rumble is a perfect blend of the meaningful and the magical. Given its inspiration – Muhammad Ali, and its perspiration – the Campaign for Black Male Achievement family, the magic is inevitable, but there is no calculated assurance of how it will manifest. You can design an agenda, but you can’t orchestrate a moment.

As a Louisvillian, the anticipation of the annual RYMR grows each year, as I love to welcome my CBMA family home and know somethingover the course of the week is going to leave me shook.

The Opening Bell, in all its brilliance, beauty and Blackness feels as impressive as it looks. Standing under the dome of Louisville’s Metro Hall, there is an elegance reminiscent of Ali’s graciousness. His six core principles – celebrated with words and awards – come to life in a ring of marble and gold. 

The evolution of Muhammad plays out in front of our eyes as the program invites and inspires Rumblers. Boys and young men, with slight trepidation, entering the portable boxing ring that serves as a stage. Suits and shoes not quite fitting their adolescent bodies but the muscle of their potential evident to all. We see the shift, ever so slight, that confidence brings when surrounded by love. They stand a little taller locking eyes with their peers and mentors who recognize the fear and offer a pride-filled nod. These boys, our boys, don’t quite know what to expect from RYMR9, but they know what it means to rumble. All teenaged Black boys in American wear those gloves. 

“Speak to the wounds.” Dr. Wizdom Powell, Director of the Health Disparities Institute and Associate Professor of Psychiatry, UConn Health

But this week is not the time for fight; it’s the time for flight. Over these few days, Flyweights learn as much about floating as they do stinging. Heavyweights are reminded of their feelings as much as their fists. Here, rumbleis the noun more so than the verb. The guttural noise that can only live so long in one’s belly before it escapes with ferocity. For some, the response to the call of “Rumble young man, rumble!” flees the body through tears not the expected “Rawww!” For others, it is an opportunity for a sanctioned scream.  

As a four-time Rumbler, I’ve grown to expect to be moved by the courage, vulnerability and witness of these boys. I expect to be awed by the outpouring of both joy and pain and grateful for the offering of grace by the adults in the space. 

Every year, I await the quake of Rumble. 

Every year, I receive a gift only Rumble can offer. 

Every year, I meet Ali again and again in the words or actions of a Rumbler.

I was in the Ali Center the night Muhammad died; it’s more mosque than museum to me. I greet his spirit every time I return, because it was there, I tearfully said goodbye to the man and whispered “welcome home” to the legacy.  I look for moments over the three days where Ali might reveal himself. His spirit is especially evident and palpable when CBMA and the Rumblers come to town and settle into the Center. Without exception there is always a moment – unscripted and pure - that catches me off guard with its devasting blow, dizzying me with its quickness and then daring me to respond. A punch in the gut from The Greatest that always leaves a mark.

“You only fail when you fear failing.” Jason Wilson, Founder, The Yunion

Ali’s urge to “Rumble young man, rumble” referred to overcoming the battle within as much as withstanding the punches of the world. You can’t know your opponent if you don’t know yourself first. Remember the roadwork makes the fighter, not the fight.

This year, for me, a Detroit Flyweight named Leviticus was my Ali. He stood, all 5 feet 4 inches of him, in a room crowded with strangers and spoke his pain into the mic with such sincerity that I tear up even now. He stood to ask a question, make a plea, express a fearful truth and expose a truthful fear. He stood there, like David, stone in hand, asking a question that I swear he didn’t believe had an answer. 

I was reminded of the trembling of Muhammad’s hand as he lifted the Olympic torch. It felt as if the whole planet teared up at the sight of his struggle and cheered at the revelation of his strength. We watched as Jason brought him to the front and taught him how to breathe – not from his chest but from his belly, not from his body, but from his soul. The room cried and breathed collectively, inhaling pain, exhaling purpose. Like Ali, the impact was universal. 

This year, Leviticus was The Greatest. 

“Systems don’t stop us, limiting beliefs do.” Dr. Pamela Jolly, Founder, Torch Enterprises

These few days in Louisville, Kentucky are like returning to the corner of the ring between rounds. A time to let someone else tend our wounds while providing wise counsel. A time to listen for perspective. A time to rest. Like Ali’s cut man, Angelo Dundee, applying petroleum jelly to his face while reminding him to move his feet and watch for the left hook, this is both a time for preparation for the battle to come and a recognition of the wounds already sustained. 

It is a time meant for healing and for victory. And like Ali, the magic of RYMR is in the love – organic and spontaneous, yet crafted and precise like a prize fighter. Here, we are reminded of our own greatness.

“There can’t be significant learning without significant relationship.” Dr. Juwanza Kunjufu, Author, Publisher, Educator

The motto of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement is Love, Learn, Lead. Those values wind through the event like a gracious host, taking our coats, filling our cups and connecting new friends. We come to learn, we come to lead; we even come to learn how to lead. But the formula for RYMR is relational not transactional. This week is about looking into eyes, minds and hearts - your own and others – to find that piece of greatness, that mission fuel, so that you too, leave a mark. 

Love. 

Learn. 

Lead.

But the greatest of these is Love.


Althea Dryden serves as Director of Operations for Cities United, and is a 2018 American Express Leadership Academy at CBMA Fellow. Learn more about her here.

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