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Ali Center Apppoints New CEO

The Muhammad Ali Center has announced that Donald Lassere will be its new president and CEO effective May 14.

Lassere has most recently served as senior vice president of Scholarship America, an education assistance program based in Minnesota.

“Muhammad and I are grateful and excited to welcome Donald as the new CEO of the Muhammad Ali Center,” Ali’s wife, Lonnie, said in a release.

“He has the credentials, personality, and the wherewithal to extend the reach of the Center globally and to form and sustain partnerships and sponsorships, as well as new philanthropic support,” she said.

“I am really excited about the opportunity to foster the mission of the Muhammad Ali Center,” said Lassere. “As I was growing up, Muhammad Ali was a great inspiration to me; he demonstrated the importance of standing up for one’s beliefs. His personal sacrifice and subsequent successes continue to be an inspiration to me and millions of people around the world.”

Lassere (pronounced luh-SAIR) replaces Greg Roberts, who resigned in 2011 after three years at the helm.

The Muhammad Ali Center opened in 2005. The 93,000 square foot facility is an educational and cultural center and houses a museum that showcases Ali’s boxing career.

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Historical Marker To Be Placed At Ali’s Childhood Home

A state historical marker that will eventually be placed at the childhood home of Muhammad Ali was unveiled today.

The bronze marker is currently on display at the Kentucky Center for African-American Heritage. It will be moved to the west Louisville home in the spring.

Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, grew up in the home at 3302 Grand Avenue, where he lived with his parents and brother.

The marker was unveiled today by several Louisville Metro Council members.

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Local News Noise & Notes Politics

Yarmuth Introduces Muhammad Ali Legacy Act

Speaking on the House floor Wednesday, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., unveiled the Muhammad Ali Legacy Act, which establishes a federal grant program to preserve the legendary boxer’s humanitarian efforts to promote global respect, understanding and communication.

The bill authorizes $5 million a year for three years, which would be administered by the State Department and fund U.S. non-profit organizations that work to promote these values. The Louisville-native and former heavyweight boxing champion recently celebrated his 70th birthday.

“Muhammad Ali is a champion in every sense of the word,” Yarmuth said in a news release. “He is a champion for civil rights, equal rights, and human rights. Through his humanitarian work and that of the Ali Center, Muhammad promotes peace and justice. He reminds us that compassion and outreach are part of our obligation as global citizens, and I want to make sure that message endures.”

Check it out:

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Muhammad Ali 70th Birthday Celebration Underway

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali turns 70 Tuesday, and a public celebration is underway at the Ali Center in downtown Louisville.

“We have a jam-packed weeklong lineup of activities for the community, many of which are free or discounted,” said center spokeswoman Jeanie Kahnke.

Several films about the Louisville native’s life and career will be screened this week, and the Ali Center is hosting a Smithsonian exhibit about people of dual African-American and Native American ancestry.

Ali attended a private fundraising dinner at the center Saturday, but Kahnke says he is not confirmed for any of the public birthday events. Ali has battled Parkinson’s disease since the 1980s.

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Local News

Ali Birthday Celebrations Begin This Weekend

More than 300 people, including notables from the fields of entertainment, sports and politics, will take part in a fundraising gala tomorrow night to mark Muhammad Ali’s 70th birthday.

The guest list for the $1,000 per plate private dinner at the Ali Center includes the boxing legend’s longtime trainer, Angelo Dundee, musician John Mellencamp and Congressman John Yarmuth.

A weeklong series of public birthday events begins Sunday at the Ali Center.

They include film screenings and a Smithsonian exhibition focusing on people of dual African-American and Native American ancestries.

A center spokeswoman says Ali will attend tomorrow’s gala but has not been confirmed for any of the public events.

Ali’s 70th birthday is Tuesday.

(Photo by Sheila Ash/September, 2010)

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Local News

Friend Says Ali Doing Well After Hospital Stay

A longtime friend of Muhammad Ali says the former boxing champ is back at his home in Arizona and doing well after being hospitalized earlier this month.

John Ramsey tells the Courier-Journal that he spoke with Ali’s wife, Lonnie, last evening.

There were media reports this week that Ali was rushed to the hospital after slipping out of consciousness at his Phoenix-area home. Ramsey said he had no details of the Louisville native’s hospitalization but thought he may have been treated for congestion and that his stay was brief.

Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in the mid-1980s and has appeared frail in recent photos.

Ramsey says the Alis plan to be in Louisville next month to celebrate the champ’s 70th birthday.

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Local News Politics

Muhammad Ali Asks Iran to Release Hikers

Boxing Champ Muhammad Ali is asking Iran to release two American hikers held since 2009 on spy chares.

Ali, arguably the most prominent US Muslim, released the letter he wrote to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the Associated Press Wednesday.

The February 1st letter asks Khamenei to release Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, who were arrested while hiking in northern Iraq near the Iranian border.

A third hiker, Sarah Shoud was released on bail in September, shortly after Ali first wrote to Khamenei. Ali’s letter asks Khamenei as a brother in Islam to show the same mercy and compassion for the two men.

Ali founded his center for world peace in Louisville, where he grew up and launched a boxing career that included three world heavyweight titles.

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Ali Center To Hold Special Monday Celebration

The Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville will have a special celebration honoring two historical figures Monday:

It is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and also Ali’s 69th birthday.

Activities include a Kentucky Opera performance and a meet-and-greet with Earl Lloyd, the first African American to play in the NBA.

Ali Center spokesperson Jeanie Kahnke says there is also a special admission deal for visitors bringing in old cell phones.

“If you bring one in to recycle as part of our Alltech Muhammad Ali Center Global Education and Charitable Fund in which we collect old phones and send them to different third world countries who do not have phones, they get in for free,” she said.

Kahnke says for those who do not bring a cell phone there is a special two dollar admission price.

She says King’s “I Have a Dream” speech will be shown all day and two Louisville artists will be available to sign their new “Muhammad Ali Through the Years” print.

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Events To Mark Ali Gold Medal Anniversary

Boxing champ Muhammad Ali was just 18 when he won Olympic gold in the light heavyweight division in Rome, Italy 50 years ago today.

Today from noon until 5:00pm, the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville will mark the historic anniversary with a series of special events.

Spokesperson Jeanie Kahnke says Ali himself could show up.

“Well, Muhammad certainly knows about this historic day and the celebration of events. So, we don’t know if he will stop by or not we certainly hope so,” she said.

Some of the events include a photo exhibit, scavenger hunt and drawings for prizes. There’s also a book signing with Feliz Rodriguez, the author of Dad, Me and Muhammad Ali.

The events are free with a reduced admission price of five dollars.

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Arts and Humanities Local News

Mural Project to Recognize Dancer Wendy Whelan

The Greater Louisville Pride Foundation has put up 17 large murals of famous Louisvillians throughout the city — and it’s getting ready to mount another. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer reports.

The foundation’s Hometown Heroes project began to recognize current or former citizens known for excellence in their fields and first hung an image of Muhammad Ali. Over the years, murals of other notable people have been added to include images of journalist Diane Sawyer, jockey Pat Day, radio journalist Bob Edwards and basketball player Darrell Griffith.

And by April next year, the foundation plans to add an image of New York City Ballet dancer Wendy Whelan to the city’s collection. (The photo is being taken by her husband, photographer David Michalek.)

The foundation’s president, Mike Sheehy, says nearly three years ago he and his colleagues began discussing a mural to honor the internationally acclaimed dancer.

“We feel Wendy, with her career in the ballet, and as an educational thing it’s great to be able to put this up and Wendy’ll maybe be an influence on some young girl or young boy that might want to pursue a career in dance,” he says.

Whelan grew up in Louisville and attended the Brown School downtown, which is were the mural will be hung.

Sheehy says Whelan will be the third artist in the group.

“We’re excited to have her as part of the group,” he says. “And Louisville has a very strong arts community and anything we can do to show that off to our citizens here and also to people visiting the community, we’re all for it.”

The only two other artists now in the collection are sculptor Ed Hamilton and Patrick Henry Hughes, the blind trumpeter in the University of Louisville marching band.

Sheehy says the decision to add an image of Whelan has been in the works for some time.

“We’ve actually been talking about Wendy for several years,” he says. “And we knew of her and what she’s done in New York with the ballet. But we’ve actually talked to her mom and father and then to Wendy herself about it. So, it’s been an ongoing process as much as these murals are.”

Photo: Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall perform with with the dance troupe Morphoses. Photo: Lois Greenfield