Muhammad Ali’s legacy of respect, hope and understanding among people has an enduring spirit for those who have seen the power that the boxing icon has even as he nears his 70th birthday, on Monday.
More than 30 years after his last fight, Ali’s fame as a humanitarian is immortalized in the Muhammad Ali Center, a non-profit home in Louisville, Kentucky, for far more than souvenirs of the legendary heavyweight champion’s career.
“It’s much more than a building. We are here to create an enduring legacy,” Ali Center spokeswoman Jeanie Kahnke said. “We want Muhammad’s legacy to be carried on to the next generation. We are the institution that will carry on Muhammad’s legacy.”
Despite battling Parkinson’s disease, Ali has lent his fame to efforts large and small to help people, whether it is neighborhood groups in his hometown of Louisville or helping bring food and medicine to poorer nations.
Ali is recalled for his flamboyant character and youthful charm, as well as epic fights with the late Joe Frazier and winning a showdown in Africa against George Foreman.
For some, Ali’s fame comes from his anti-war stance and the courage he showed in being banned from boxing at the peak of his career for refusing to enlist as a US soldier in the Vietnam War.
Still others point to Ali’s role in the 1960s US civil rights movement, a proud messenger of black culture and social change that helped pave the way for iconic athletes who followed, such as the NBA’s Michael Jordan and golf star Tiger Woods.
“It’s hard to bottle Muhammad Ali’s magic, but the values that he has been led by and believed in are represented in the Ali Center,” Kahnke said. “We work to transport the magic of Muhammad Ali beyond these walls and to have a positive effect on people. We’re not just a destination place. We’re about creating a movement for the younger generation. Most of the young people only know him as a boxer.”
Mitchell Butler, a young boy of eight from New Zealand when he met Ali at the dedication ceremony for the center in 2005, was among those who filmed a video birthday greeting for Ali’s birthday party on Saturday with family and friends.
Meeting Ali can be an emotional experience even for the most hardened.
“It’s extraordinary,” Kahnke said. “He touches people like no other. Grown men cry when they see him.”
Whether inspired by Ali, aided by him or just able to recall enjoying his exploits in turbulent times, people carry much from Ali memories.
“Muhammad Ali is embraced by so many people around the world, but the effect he has on people is that he inspires for many different reasons — his courage, his kindness, his charisma,” Kahnke said. “What’s ironic about it is Muhammad is so humble. He’s a unique individual.”