The Muhammed Ali Center

Louisville, Kentucky

There are any number of reasons to visit a museum, a shrine, or a park. A visitor to the Muhammed Ali Center (right) will fulfill a number of desires in this building dedicated to Ali the athlete and Ali the inspiration. Be forewarned, you will encounter employees that exemplify the character that Muhammed Ali has come to stand for and symbolize. They will make your visit pleasant and memorable. The Ali Center is certainly a place where the employees believe in the mission of the center and do everything possible to ensure that visitors have an incredible experience.

The day I was there two school groups showed up to take part in the educational outreach programs offered by the center. The high school group, as might be expected, entered calm and reserved. Twenty minutes in, after viewing a multi media presentation covering Ali's life and times, they were not simply looking at exhibits in a museum, they were experiencing the world of Muhammed Ali and preparing themselves for a journey that would place them in the middle of the six ideals that serve as a focus of the center: Dedication, Confidence, Conviction, Giving, Respect, and Spirituality. Every exhibit in the center illustrates the importance of those core values. The grade school group that followed listened intently to their teachers explain that up the escalator they would partake in interactive exhibits that would enable them to experience historical events and challenge their beliefs, attitudes and physical prowess. While they may have been more excited about the reclining benches surrounding the exhibit which focuses on Spirituality, or the 'Whites Only' cafe around the corner, they were still learning.

The center also welcomes visitors who are not part of an educational program as they too will benefit from the message and the stated mission, "To preserve and share the legacy and ideals of Muhammed Ali, to promote respect, hope, and understanding, and to inspire adults and children everywhere to be as great as they can be."

After experiencing the film, visitors can read some of Ali's poetry. Who can forget the way the man used the language? He is a master of understatement and humor, especially when speaking about his fights, but his words also provide an insight in to the deeply thoughtful feelings Ali had for his fellow man.

Next the journey takes us through pavilions with themes that exemplify the core values of Ali's life. The focus of the pavilions begins with Dedication and Confidence before moving on to Giving, Respect, Spirituality and Conviction. The areas are linked by biographical timelines that take us from Ali's early life in Louisville, as Cassius Clay, through his Olympic Gold, and then to his acceptance of Islam and the struggles faced by African Americans.

Have you ever wondered what a boxer experiences before they get in to the ring? One of the more popular interactive exhibits, the 'Train with Ali' ring (below) is one of the final stops on the fifth floor. Here we are given the opportunity to step in to a ring and practice the moves that all great boxers master. You will be guided by the daughter of The Greatest: Laila Ali. Laila, projected on a wall at the back of the ring, will make certain that you understand the basics of footwork, body movement, keeping your hands in the right place, and trying to outwork your opponent. The exercise takes three minutes - the length of one round of boxing. After you have finished, remember that many of Ali's fights were scheduled for 15 rounds.

Once you have mastered the basics with Laila, it is time to put what you have learned to the test. In this part of the 'Train with Ali' regiman, you will step on to a mat to shadowbox with a wiley opponent (below). Don't be fooled by the fact that he seems to stand in only one place, he throws punches quickly and often. The good news is that you will never feel any of them landing.

After your shadowboxing experience step to your right and experience the heavybag. Imagine standing on the back and trying to hold the bag while Muhammed Ali throws everything he has at the front.

 

What is your favorite Ali fight? Chances are that you can watch it on one of the television screens set up on the fourth floor. You will scroll through a screen which shows the ticket for the fight, and when you make your choice the screen provides some background information before the fight begins (below). I watched the first Liston fight, and had time permitted, I would have sat and watched them all.

The film The Greatest is projected from a ceiling mounted projector on the fifth floor on to a boxing ring on the fourth. You can stand around the opening and watch the film as well as take in the number of exhibits and memorabilia depicting Ali's life as a boxer and humanitartian (below).

I went to the Ali Center as a fan of boxing and Ali. I remember watching some of his fights on big screen televisions in smoked billed taverns. He was larger than life on the screen. Outside of the ring, whether it was prior to a fight or after a fight, he was eloquent and well spoken . He spoke with courage, conviction and just enough humor to let us know that as humans, we really were not that different. Ali was a man who once he gained notoriety and had a stage, he spoke for many of the voiceless. It did not matter if he was speaking about racial tension in America or involvement in the war in Viet Nam, in many instances, Ali became an American voice.

In every room, in every exhibit of the Ali Center you will walk with The Greatest. You will have the opportunity to find or redefine your sense of self and purpose. I came out thinking about how every one of the students in attendance that day would walk back to their bus thinking about how they could be an inspiration to a classmate, a neighbor, or another generation. They would emerge undaunted to face any task; everything would lie in the realm of the possible.

More information on the Muhammed Ali Center can be found online.