Inspiring Greatness: Muhammad Ali, Lonnie Ali, and the Muhammad Ali Center

headshot of Muhammad Ali smiling in a suite and tie with right hand under chin

Partners for Youth with Disabilities will be holding its annual Party for PYD on May 18th – but beyond the talented performances, delicious food, and fun activities, the party will be a night to remember because of the event’s incredibly special honorees. PYD’s first honoree, the great Muhammad Ali, is someone who fought hard for inclusion (sometimes literally), and someone whose legacy continues to live on even though he is no longer with us.

Lonnie Ali smiling in a suit with Muhammad Ali museum in backgroundMuhammad Ali, Lonnie Ali, and the Muhammad Ali Center are a few of our unbelievable honorees that will be presented with the PYD Legends Award during this year’s party. As pioneers in societal leadership and mentoring, they’ve embarked on an extraordinary mission to empower people of all ages. They are pillars of leadership in advancing diversity, mentoring, inclusion and strategic advocacy for a better world.

Muhammad Ali, known for his great achievements in his boxing career, didn’t let the fame and money overpower his sense of compassion. Instead, he used his popularity as a platform to influence and educate others on the importance of kindness. Overseas, Ali was dedicated to raising awareness about the struggles of developing nations by fighting in Manila, Kuala Lumpur, and Kinshasa.  He not only delivered medical supplies to an embargoed Cuba, but he also provided more than 22 million meals to the world’s hungry. His philanthropic efforts went around the world to Cote d’Ivoire, Indonesia, Mexico, and many other countries.

At home, he engaged in many renowned charitable organizations, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Special Olympics, and countless hospitals and soup kitchens. Additionally, he made his mark in sports by mobilizing many famous figures such as Mario Lemieux, Andre Agassi, and Lance Armstrong to create the humanitarian network Athletes for Hope. Apart from these groups, Ali put a tremendous amount of effort into generating awareness and research for Parkinson’s disease. In 1997, he established the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center and Movement Disorders Clinic in Phoenix, which brought hope, comfort, and treatment to thousands of patients and families.

Muhammad Ali Center logo in orange, w/black and white letteringMuhammad Ali’s motivation to give back to society was propelled by the saying, “Don’t count the days; make the days count.”  Inspired by such spirit, Ali’s legacy lives on through the Muhammad Ali Center, which features an interactive museum, educational programming, and special events encouraging the public to pursue greatness in their own lives, communities, and countries. This international cultural center promotes the six core principles of Muhammad Ali: confidence, conviction, dedication, giving, respect, and spirituality.  These principles promote both personal and global greatness, and aid the center in providing programming around the focus areas of education, gender equality, and global citizenship.

After being wed in 1986, Muhammad’s wife Lonnie coordinated and managed all of Muhammad’s business affairs. Most notable was her creation of Greatest of All Time, Inc. (GOAT Inc.), where she centralized and licensed her husband’s intellectual properties for commercial purposes.  Lonnie continuously accompanied her husband in his humanitarian efforts all over the world and always supported his charitable organizations at home, including assisting Muhammad in launching the Ali Parkinson Center and the Muhammad Ali Center. Her passion for enhancing educational opportunities for youth lead her to develop the Muhammad Ali: GO THE DISTANCE reading program, which provides teachers with research-based curriculum and practices to motivate learning and improve comprehension. Lonnie is currently on the management board of Muhammad Ali Enterprises and is a Lifetime Director of the Ali Center, where she continues to honor her husband’s legacy.

In his lifetime, Ali was named a Messenger of Peace by United Nations, and awarded both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Amnesty International’s Lifetime Achievement Award. PYD is honored to join the world in recognizing the important work Ali did – in addition to the PYD Legends Award, PYD has been a key leader in establishing a day dedicated to Ali. Regina Snowden, PYD’s Founder & Executive Director, explains, “PYD along with Mentor, Inc. has created a special day of honoring Muhammad Ali (on his birthday) — International Day of Mentoring— January 17th, during National Mentoring Month.”

Although Ali is no longer with us, PYD is proud to carry on Ali’s philosophy that “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” PYD is humbled to honor Muhammad Ali, Lonnie Ali, and the Muhammad Ali Center, and believes that everyone can learn something from their contributions. We hope to see everyone May 18th to pay a small token of tribute to such an influential person.

Also, we’re enthusiastic to share that EverybodyFights FiDi boxing gym and George Foreman III are joining in the celebration of the Ali’s. They are hosting a special Warm Up to Party for PYD boxing circuit workout on April 29th and plan to attend the May 18th party! We hope you join us both dates!

This post was written by Olivia Mannion, Jackie (Xiao) Yan, Juan Zhou, and Mary Grace Alcaro of the BU PRLab. Edited by Nicole Malo.