BoxingMuhammad Ali

Replay: ‘Champion of Service’ virtual event honors Muhammad Ali for his 80th birthday

If Louisville native Muhammad Ali were alive today, he’d be celebrating his 80th birthday on Jan. 17.

To honor the legacy of the man known as The Greatest of All Time and a champion for humanity through his commitment to service outside the boxing ring, you are invited to a national virtual event presented by PBS Books, USA TODAY and the Muhammad Ali Center.

The nationally streamed program, “Champion of Service: Celebrating Muhammad Ali,” takes place Wednesday at 8 p.m. EST on the PBS Books, USA TODAY and Courier Journal Facebook pages and will feature reflections from individuals close to the late world heavyweight champion including his widow, a daughter, close friends and a documentary filmmaker.

Before Muhammad Ali became a three-time heavyweight boxing champion and one of the world’s most celebrated sports figures, the Louisville Lip got his start in the sport at the age of 12. The 1960 Central High School graduate won six Kentucky Golden Gloves titles, two national Golden Gloves titles and an AAU national title before winning the light heavyweight gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome.

“What is truly wonderful about this program are the stories you’ll hear about Muhammad from some of the people who knew him best,” said Jeanie Kahnke, senior director of public relations and external affairs at the Muhammad Ali Center, 144 N. Sixth St. in downtown Louisville. “The four panelists who have known him for decades and know all sides of his humanitarian spirit have rich and powerful stories to tell.”

The virtual program will highlight Ali’s dedication to courage, generosity, kindness and compassion beginning with his widow, vice-chair and co-founder of the Ali Center, Lonnie Ali, who will introduce the one-hour event.

Guest speakers will include PBS filmmaker Ken Burns, Ali’s daughter Hana Ali, John Ramsey, a personal friend, David Chaudoir, a longtime employee of Ali’s and Dr. Richard Lapchick, who is a human rights activist, author, scholar and the 2021 Muhammad Ali Humanitarian of the Year Award recipient. Each participant will draw upon their personal experiences with “The Greatest” and share their own unique perspectives on his legacy as a humanitarian. Courier Journal sports editor Reina Kempt will serve as emcee for the program.

Muhammad Ali enjoys a Popsicle with his daughter Hana during his first retirement in Los Angeles. Jan 1980.
Muhammad Ali enjoys a Popsicle with his daughter Hana during his first retirement in Los Angeles. Jan 1980.
In addition, Burns will share some inspirational comments and a segment from his PBS documentary, “Muhammad Ali,” which brought to life one of the most indelible figures of the 20th century when it aired in four parts in September.

“We plan for this to be a celebration of Muhammad’s birthday as well as a celebration of his tradition of service,” said Mizell Stewart, vice president of News Performance, Talent & Partnerships for Gannett and the USA TODAY Network. “It will be an opportunity for the audience to take a few moments to consider how they can be of service in their own community.”

Along with learning more about the unique contributions Ali made in sports and society, this national virtual program will also encourage others to participate in The Greatest Give Back through service projects across the country, which are organized each year on Jan. 17, Ali’s birthday. Due to recent COVID-19 spikes, the on-site event at the Ali Center has been postponed until June.

Additional partners include Metro Louisville United Way, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History and Kentucky Educational Television.

“As we celebrate Muhammad’s birthday, we will also use this event as a call to action for people to give back in their own communities in Muhammad’s name,” Kahnke told the Courier Journal. “Since one of his core principles is giving, we feel this is a significant way to honor his service.”

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