Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer's Speech on the death of Muhammad Ali. Delivered June 4, 2016 .
Muhammad Ali lived a life so big and bold, it’s hard to believe that any one man could do everything he did, could be all the things that he became in the course of just one lifetime.
This man, this champion, ended his 74 years yesterday as A United Nations Messenger of Peace; a Humanitarian and champion athlete who earned Amnesty International’s Lifetime Achievement Award; the Presidential Medal of Freedom; and Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Century.
He was co-founder, with his beloved wife Lonnie, of the Muhammad Ali Center, which promotes respect, hope, and understanding here in his hometown of Louisville, and around the world.
A man of action and principle, he was a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, and willingly paid the price, taking a stand that forced him out of the ring for over three years during the prime of his career.
A devout Muslim and interfaith pioneer, he took the name Muhammad Ali in 1964 and advocated for understanding and peace among people of different faiths.
He was, of course, three-time heavyweight champion of the world -- a young, handsome fighter with swagger like the world had never seen. He intimidated opponents outside the ring and dominated them inside it.
Like when he predicted he would beat Sonny Liston in 1964, made it happen, and shouted, “I shook up the world.”
He was winner of the Olympic Gold Medal in Rome, 1960.
A graduate of Louisville’s Central High School, class of 1960.
He was a 12-year-old boy whose red bicycle was stolen in front of a gym on Fourth Street, who told police officer Joe Martin that he wanted to “whup” whoever took it. And Martin said that he’d better learn to box first.
Muhammad Ali was a boy who grew up at 3302 Grand Avenue. He liked to eat hot dogs and play Clue with his brother in a house that’s now a museum.
And before that, he was a newborn baby, Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., born January 17, 1942 to Cassius Sr. and Odessa Grady Clay.
Imagine that day, that little boy, eyes wide open looking around the room at the old Louisville General Hospital. Not knowing the life that awaited him. The life he would make. The world he would shake up. The people he would inspire.
And like you, I am absolutely one of those people.
Muhammad Ali belongs to the world, but he only has one hometown. The Louisville Lip spoke to everyone, but we heard him in a way no one else could – as our brother, our uncle, and our inspiration.
And I am so grateful I had the chance to know him and see how he leveraged his fame to share his message of love, peace and compassion.
What The Champ would want us to do right now is to spread that same message, follow his example, and live by the same six core principles that he lived by:
- Respect, and
I’d like to close with Muhammad’s words, which carried just as much grace and power as his fists ever did. This comes from his book The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life’s Journey.
“It doesn't matter whether you're a Muslim, a Christian, or a Jew. When you believe in God, you should believe that all people are part of one family. If you love God, you can't love only some of his children.”
He believed passionately in the need for us all to keep our eyes, our minds and our hearts open so we can keep learning from each other. As he says,
“My soul has grown over the years, and some of my views have changed. As long as I'm alive, I will continue to try to understand more because the work of the heart is never done.”
We all remember the incredible moment in 1996 when Muhammad held that burning torch in his trembling hand and lit the Olympic flame in Atlanta.
And now, he has passed his torch to us.
While there can only be one Muhammad Ali, his journey from Grand Avenue to global icon serves as a reminder that there are young people with the potential for greatness in houses and neighborhoods all over our city, our nation and our world.
There is no limit to what our kids can do if we help them realize their full human potential - and there is no excuse for us to do anything less than our best to help them find that greatness in themselves.
That’s how we can be champions. Muhammad Ali has shown us the way.
Today, we, his fellow Louisvillians, join the billions whose lives he touched worldwide in mourning his passing, celebrating his legacy, and saying, “Thank you Muhammad, for everything you’ve given to your hometown, your country, and the world.”