A sellout crowd filled with local, national, and international guests celebrated an inspiring evening at the ninth annual Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards.
Established by the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky, the awards celebrate individuals whose contributions to social justice, human rights, and peacemaking help advance humanity in their communities and around the world. Proceeds from this event support the Ali Center’s programs, initiatives, and exhibitions.
The awards incorporate two categories: “Seasoned” Awards, honoring individuals who have dedicated a significant portion of their lives to humanitarianism and a host of philanthropic causes, and ‘Six Core Principle” Awards named after the values embodied by Muhammad Ali—Confidence, Conviction, Dedication, Respect, Giving, and Spirituality. The awardees in this category are all 30 years of age or younger.
During the evening’s celebrations, the Ali Center shared a new vision and mission statement, in which it renewed a fervor for creating a more just and compassionate world. President and CEO Marilyn Jackson relayed in her remarks that the unifying effect Muhammad’s passing in 2016 had on the city of Louisville is an appropriate mindset from which to view the Center’s potential impact in our community and beyond.
Dr. Anthony Fauci received the Lifetime Achievement Award for his work at the National Institute of Allery and Infectious Diseases, and throughout the global COVID-19 Pandemic.
He was honored for his extensive research portfolio, dedication to the worldwide health of humanity, and his long and impressive career serving under seven U.S. presidents, beginning with Ronald Reagan.
“When Muhammed Ali won the world heavyweight champion from Sonny Liston in February 1964, I was 23 years old, just one year older than he was,” Fauci recalled. “Not surprisingly, I was in awe of his extraordinary athletic prowess. But soon I grew to admire him as much or more for the life principles he espoused… Come what may, he was honest and brave, and for that, my respect for him grew.”
World Central Kitchen (WCK) received the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian of the Year Award. WCK’s mission is to respond first to humanitarian, climate, and community crises with food. Their humanitarian efforts have touched many countries and states, and it was particularly noted that WCK’s work touched the lives of those in Kentucky who endured the effects of the Western Kentucky tornadoes last December and the catastrophic flooding in Eastern Kentucky this past summer. The award was received by WCK’s Interim CEO Erich Broksas.
“WCK is founded on the belief that food is more than a meal,” Broksas said. “We believe that, following a devastating disruption, food has the power to bring comfort, unity, and even hope. That’s what drives WCK’s mission—we aim to provide meals with dignity and with respect, a core principle shared with Muhammad Ali.”
Alice Houston received the Muhammad Ali Kentucky Humanitarian Award. Houston is a prominent businesswoman, philanthropist, community leader, and education advocate who has been making a difference in the Louisville community for decades. Houston spoke on her relationship with the Ali and Clay families, and their history in the city of Louisville.
“Muhammad never forgot his roots or Grand Avenue,” Houston said. “Whenever he came back to Louisville, he would always visit the neighborhood, and he always would come by our house. I can honestly say that Muhammad has influenced and impacted me more than one might imagine.”
Joining those seasoned awardees were six young international humanitarians doing work in their communities and countries that align with Muhammad Ali’s principles.
Gitanjali Rao, 16 (United States) received an award for Confidence, after being named the first-ever Time Magazine Kid of the Year. Rao’s inventions help to detect counter cyberbullying. Rao gave a compelling speech calling young people around the world to take part in technology and innovation to change the world around us.
“The biggest misconception that we have faced is that innovation has a name, a face, an age, a race, or any other specification to it,” Rao said. “But the only real specification that innovation has is a personal zeal. One that is driven by the power of empathy and creativity.”
Lefteris Arapakis, 28 (Greece) received the Conviction Award for his work combatting pollution in the Mediterranean Sea. Arapakis’s organization, Enaleia, teaches fisherman to clean plastic out of the sea. Mohamad Al Jounde, 23 (Syria) was honored for his Dedication to education. His work gives 200 children access to education through his Gharsah School in Lebanon. Liam Elkind, 22 (United States) is a Yale College senior who received the Giving Award. During the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Elkind co-founded Invisible Hands to help ensure food access and medical supplies to at-risk community members.
2016-17 NBA Rookie of the Year Malcom Brogdon, 29 (United States) was recognized for his work in Tanzania and around the world with the Respect Award. Brogdon helps lead the Brogdon Family Foundation, which works toward access to clean water and quality education for all people. South Sudanese activist Lual Mayen rounded out the Core Principle slate for his work around the world to fight for refugee and migrant rights. Lual founded Junub Games to help teach kids the importance of peace through video games.
CBS News’ Michelle Miller served as the evening’s emcee. Miller is currently the co-host of CBS Saturday Morning.
Award presenters for the evening were Ralph de Chabert, retired SVP and chief Diversity and Global Community Relations officer at Brown-Forman, and Tiffany Benjamin, CEO of the Humana Foundation.
Also presenting were former members of the Muhammad Ali Center Council of Students alumni, Haley Brents and Reverend Royal Todd.
The evening also included a special expression of gratitude from the Ali Center to Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer for the contributions he has made to preserving Muhammad Ali’s legacy in Louisville.