By : Isabelle Doll Ngcobo
The mission of the Muhammad Ali Center is to preserve and share the legacy and ideals of Muhammad Ali, to promote respect, hope, and understanding, and to inspire adults and children everywhere to be as great as they can be.
Founded four years ago in his name ” Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards” to honor those who work to make a difference in their communities and the world.
The spirit of Ali, who died June 3 at age 74, infused the evening awards ceremony Saturday from an opening musical tribute “I am Ali,” to poignant remarks by Lonnie Ali, the widowed wife of the famous boxer and world peace champion known as “The Greatest”
Lannie Ali shared fond memories of meeting him when she was just 6-years-old and he was 22.
“He was just as wonderful then as he was the day he passed away,” she said. “There was something very special about Muhammad. He was a wonderful man to share my life with.”
About 700 people attended Saturday night’s gala at the Louisville Mariott Downtown, featuring glittering gowns, Hollywood celebrities, guests from around the globe and a polished awards ceremony presided over by NBC’s Craig Melvin the host of the 3-hour program.
Honorees included well-known national figures, such as Cindy McCain
who works to fight human trafficking. There also were stars of stage and screen; Academy Award-winning actor Lou Gossett Jr., Broadway and television star Sheryl Lee Ralph and Grammy award winning musician Jon Secada
The first Humanitarian Awards for work in areas including hunger, medical care, housing, disaster relief and efforts to end violence went to six young adults from around the world .
John Rosenberg won the Muhammad Ali Kentucky Humanitarian Award for his lifetime work of public interest law. Rosenberg came to Eastern Kentucky with his wife Jean, in 1970 and helped found the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund of Kentucky, or AppalRed, which provides legal aid to the poor.
A standing ovation, one of many it would offer that night, as Rosenberg, 84, walked to the stage.
The soft spoken lawyer said he preferred to think the award was meant to recognize the many dedicated lawyers who have worked for AppalRed during the past several decades. Attentavely the award attendees listened as he described how his Jewish family fled the Nazis when he was 7, then eventually settling in the United States.
“I’m very proud of this award and of this country, a country in which Muhammad Ali could rise to become an American icon,” Rosenberg said.
“As long as America remembers it is a nation of immigrants, We can continue to claim justly, our country is the greatest country in the world,” Rosenberg said.
Broadway star, Sheryl Lee Ralph
serenated the crowd with the song “I know where my voice belongs” on the opening of her acceptance speech as she received the Global Citizenship award, for her work in AIDS education and relief.
Sheryl has spent the last three decades advocating for those infected by HIV/AIDS and educating others around the world about the importance of knowing their status. She is the founding Director of The Divinely Inspired Victoriously Aware (DIVA) Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, created as a living memorial to the many friends she lost to HIV/AIDS while a member of Dreamgirls.
Louis Gossett,Jr was awarded the
Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award for Education.A Los Angeles Times best-selling author (An Actor and a Gentleman), Gossett is still working steadily in films and on TV.
With a career spanning six decades, the elder statesman has dedicated this last quadrant of his life to communicate with younger generations and transmit the values of community, self-love, and purpose that have characterized our progress as a people. He established Louis Gossett Jr.’s Eracism Foundation which is dedicated to providing young adults with the tools they need for living a racially diverse and culturally inclusive life. Through his Foundation, Gossett will establish Shamba Centers (Swahili for “farm”) throughout the United States, that offer instruction in cultural diversity, historical enrichment and antiviolence initiatives for young adults, teens and pre-teens to help them understand and eliminate racism by creating a living environment where racism and injustice have a hard time existing
received the Humanitarian Award for Lifetime Achievement. A surprised video tribute from her husband, Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain, who wasn’t able to attend, gave praises to his wife as a tireless worker against human trafficking and Ali as an inspiration to him and others around the world. ” I can think of no more deserving person to receive this award in honor of “The Greatest,” he said.
Cindy McCain said she was accepting the award in honor of all the victims of human trafficking in the world and she urged the audience to join the fight ” It is in your own neighborhood. It is right here in Louisville,” she said. “Let’s end it altogether.”
was awarded and honored to six young people
Josh Nesbit of Waterford, VA. got the Confidence Award for founding an organization to improve health services to isolated areas around the world.
Shawana Shah Pershawar of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, the Conviction Award for work to reduce gender-based violence.
Curt Bowen of Boise, Idaho, the Dedication Award for work to improve nutrition for malnourished people in Guatemala.
Schillinger of Tuebingen, Germany, the Giving Award for co-founding Onedollarglasses.com, a grassroots effort to get affordable eyeglasses to the poor in isolated communities.
Tina Hovsepian of Los Angeles, California , the Respect Award for creating innovative ways to house the homeless.
NavonelVoni Glick of Tel Aviv, Israel, the Spirituality Award for his work in disaster relief.
While the Muhammad Ali Humanatarian Award ceremony celebrated and focused on the extraordinary accomplishments of the award winners from around the world, several speakers deemed it perfect timing to mention references to the
University of Louisville football team’s 63-20 out of Florida State earlier Saturday , as well as the stellar performance of U of L’s quarterback and Heisman Trophy contender Lamar Jackson.
Lonnie Ali said she was “riding on a high” – in part because of the awards ceremony but also because “We beat Florida State!” A comment from Lonnie that brought on lots of cheers in the room while suspiciously sounded like something Muhammad Ali would say.
Proceeds raised during the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards support educational initiatives, community programming, and on-site exhibitions.