One Step Away: Boxing champ, homeless advocate to be honored

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Boxing Hall of Famer and advocate for the homeless Matthew Saad Muhammad (left) and Philadelphia boxing legend Joe Frazier (right) at the inaugural Knock Out Homelessness event in 2011.

By One Step Away Staff

On May 14, One Step Away will be honoring the life of Matthew Saad Muhammad with its fifth annual Knock Out Homelessness event, presented by Independence Blue Cross. 

A former light heavyweight champion and member of the Boxing Hall of Fame, Saad Muhammad was a voice of homelessness advocacy here in Philadelphia up until his passing last May.  

Saad Muhammad, who joined forces with One Step Away to create the Knock Out Homelessness fundraiser five years ago, was inspired by his own true story of homelessness and redemption.

“Many of my experiences outside the ring have pushed me to become an advocate for people who don’t have a voice,” he said in a 2014 interview with One Step Away. “Homeless does not mean worthless. Believe me, I should know.”

“When I was 5 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,” Saad Muhammad told One Step Away. “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 5 years old, and I was running for my life. But I couldn’t keep up.”

Throughout his childhood, Saad Muhammad moved around different foster homes and was picked on and beat up at school for being an orphan.  

“I eventually went to the Juniper Street Gym in South Philadelphia to learn how to fight so I could defend myself,” he recounted. “It was there I found my calling.”

Even after a successful boxing career, Saad Muhammad struggled with homelessness.

“I trusted the wrong people with the money I made when I was champ, and I’ve had some tough times,” he told the paper. “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.”

“That’s why I’m proud to represent One Step Away,” said Saad Muhammad. “A program … that works to empower people, and give them the tools to rebuild themselves, helps them regain their self-esteem and their self-confidence.”

"We were always honored that Matthew enjoyed working with One Step Away,” said Kevin Roberts, former editor of One Step Away. “He was a great gentleman, he carried himself with dignity at all times, and he treated people with respect. He was a wonderful advocate because of the way he connected with people, through a simple message that in so many ways summed up his whole life: You might be down, but you can get back up.”

Saad Muhammad is deeply missed, but his legacy lives on in the fight to end homelessness.

Knock Out Homelessness will take place Thursday, May 14, from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30.p.m. at Chickie’s & Pete’s in South Philadelphia. In addition to celebrating the contributions of Saad Muhammad, the event will feature video gaming, a silent auction of sports and entertainment items, and celebrity guests. Past guests have included Philadelphia legend and former heavyweight champ Joe Frazier, U.S. Olympic hero Carl Lewis, Phillies great Darren Daulton, former cruiserweight champ and Pennsylvania Hall of Famer Nate “Mr.” Miller, and many more.

Proceeds from the event will help One Step Away continue to employ individuals working to break the cycle of homelessness. Donation and ticket information for Knock Out Homelessness can be found on One Step Away’s website at www.osaphilly.com.