Portia Wright, a Jefferson County teacher, could hardly believe it had been a year since the passing of three-time heavyweight boxing champion, activist and ‘The Greatest,’ Muhammad Ali.
Wright was visiting family in Alabama last year when she heard the news and cut her trip short to come back for memorial services.
She was joined Saturday morning, the one-year anniversary of Ali’s death, by roughly 80 others at a memorial service at the Muhammad Ali Center to honor Ali’s legacy and “to remember how the city of Louisville came together in peace and unity during the week of The Champ’s passing.”
“My memory of that week is one big beautiful collage,” Mayor Greg Fischer said.
The service included blessings from representatives of multiple faiths and remarks from Fischer and Ali Center President and CEO Donald Lassere. There was also a musical performance by Linkin’ Bridge and a symbolic release of butterflies by the Ali Center Council of Students and Ali’s wife, Lonnie.
This was also the kickoff for the “I am Ali” Festival, a six-week festival taking place at the Ali Center and throughout the city with each week highlight one of Ali’s “six core principles,” the center said in a release.
Ali, born Cassius Clay, converted to Islam in 1964 following the knockout match between him and Charles Liston. Fischer said Ali’s faith extended beyond Islam and it extended to faith in Louisville and an encompassing faith in all people.
Imam AbduRahman Sackho was the first speaker for the service and read passages from the Quran.
Sackho read from the Al-Hujurat, the 49th chapter of the Quran. Written in Arabic, the translation for the text according to Quran.com, partially translates as, “Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you.”
Rev. Kevin Crosby, pastor of St. Stephen Baptist Church, recited the Lord’s Prayer as recorded in the Bible in the book of Luke. Crosby challenged the crowd to identify the most important words in the prayer as he emphasized the instances of “us” and “our.”
“The Lord’s Prayer is a collective prayer. … We are all in it together, all of us need daily bread,” Crosby said.
Rabbi Joe Rooks Rapport was scheduled to speak at the service but a representative for the Rapport took his place. Saying how “Jews are a people of memory” and how remembrance was woven into the fabric of their lives, Rapport’s message focused on remembering the life and legacy of Ali.
“We remember that he fought for understanding and respect between people of many faiths, people of many nations, many cultures and many understandings of how to live a righteous life,” he said.
Muhammad Babar, president of Muslim Americans for Compassion, took a more personal note when lamenting the legacy of Ali by reading a poem he had written after his passing titled “Oh my Ali.” Focusing on prominent events of Ali’s legacy, he read lines of “you said no to foreign wars” and “you took up the message of Islam others said Islam what,” among others.
“You were our strength, our prowess, our pride. … Now, who will push back the agents of hatred and watch our back?” Babar said.
One year after Ali’s passing, Wright said the principles of Ali which has stuck with her has been how Ali was a great example of how people can push themselves.
“I think we should strive always to do our part,” she said.
Different principles of Ali’s stand stick with different people. While Wright remembers Ali for his giving, Ahmaad Edmund, a recent graduate of Male High School and member of the Ali Center Council of Students, said he remembers Ali most for his spirit of confidence.
Whether inside or outside the ring, Edmund said Ali was always confident and it was this confidence that inspired Edmund to believe in himself.
“I can still rise to the occasion just like Mr. Ali did,” he said.