University of Louisville presents Grawemeyer Spirit Award to Muh - WDRB 41 Louisville News

University of Louisville presents Grawemeyer Spirit Award to Muhammad Ali

UofL President James Ramsey presents Muhammad Ali with the Grawemeyer Spirit Award on Sept. 17, 2015 at the Louisville Palace. UofL President James Ramsey presents Muhammad Ali with the Grawemeyer Spirit Award on Sept. 17, 2015 at the Louisville Palace.
Rahaman Ali and his wife, Caroline. Rahaman Ali and his wife, Caroline.
Muhammad Ali takes a closer look at the Grawemeyer Spirit award he received at the Louisville Palace on Sept. 17, 2015. Muhammad Ali takes a closer look at the Grawemeyer Spirit award he received at the Louisville Palace on Sept. 17, 2015.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The University of Louisville has presented Muhammad Ali with the inaugural Grawemeyer Spirit Award in a public ceremony at the Louisville Palace attended by nearly 1,000 people.

The Grawemeyer Spirit Award was established to recognize an individual whose beliefs, actions and worldwide impact are in accord with Charles Grawemeyer’s reason for founding the awards program that bears his name. The U of L graduate, industrialist, entrepreneur and philanthropist wanted to recognize innovative ideas and inspire others to make the world a better place. He began the awards in 1984 with an initial endowment of $9 million. The first award was given in 1985.

"Although Mr. Ali and Charles Grawemeyer traveled very different paths in life, their destinations are similar," said UofL President James Ramsey at the awards ceremony, adding that they both envisioned a, "world where every individual's worth is cause for celebration; a world in which inspiration plus action can lead to transformation; a world where each of us can make positive change by discovering our own greatness."

The Grawemeyer Awards are given each year in five categories: music composition, education, religion, psychology and political science. The awards draw nominations from around the world and, to date, more than $14 million has been given to 133 winners. The Grawemeyer Spirit Award includes a $100,000 honorarium, a portion of which Muhammad and Lonnie Ali have used to establish a leadership scholarship with the U of L baseball team. Part of the money is also expected to be given to a program at the Ali Center.

"Muhammad is honored to be recognized by the University of Louisville and the Grawemeyer Awards Committee with the very first H. Charles Grawemeyer Spirit Award," said Lonnie Ali. "In accepting this award, we are reminded that Muhammad's life continues to inspire generations of people to discover and cultivate their own path to greatness and to use their talents and successes to empower others in communities all over the world. This award allows Muhammad’s legacy, like Charles Grawemeyer’s legacy, to live on through the people they inspire."

Journalist and U of L alumnus Howard Fineman, global editorial director of the Huffington Post Media Group, was master of ceremonies for the event, which also included a photo retrospective by longtime Ali photographer Neil Leifer.

"When we first learned about this award, we were overwhelmed. Muhammad couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it. To be given the first Grawemeyer Spirit Award was something of a huge honor," said Lonnie Ali.

"The man we honor today is not only a world figure of tremendous import and positive impact, but somebody who represents the spirit of all mankind," said Howard Fineman.

Ali raised his fist as he accepted his award, and his wife Lonnie talked about the influence he has worldwide.

"Muhammad believes that kindness, respect and love can overcome the borders, the boundaries and the walls, both mental and physical, that separate us," said Lonnie Ali.

The legendary boxer is known for standing up for his views on race and faith.

He's also a champion for those suffering from Parkinson's Disease.

"It's just yet another sign of his humanity and concern for people in need throughout the world," said journalist Howard Fineman.

Friends, family, and fans were all in attendance, as he received this latest honor.

"God is so good to us. So good. We're just happy and proud. Happy and proud," said Rahaman Ali, Muhammad's brother.

"I would like to say Muhammad Ali that you inspired me as a young kid and today you are still inspiring me as a man," said Louisiana resident Glenn Singleton, who is writing a book about Muhammad Ali.

Video messages were also shown during the ceremony from celebrities like actor Billy Crystal.

"Ali became the voice that we all listened to. If you want to really know something about the man, it's not just what he accomplished in the ring, which is unparalleled in our lifetime, but it's what he meant as a person, as a human being," said Crystal.

It has been decades since "The Greatest" fought in the ring, but his influence outside of it continues.

"Muhammad believes that you can change the world one person at a time, starting with him of course," said Lonnie Ali.

"Today we have the opportunity to honor and celebrate the life, the faith, and the many contributions of a man who has inspired people around the world to reach for the best in the human spirit," said Rev. Dr. Michael Jinkins, President of the Louisville Seminary.

"Today we pay tribute to a man whose courage, conviction and generosity of spirit have inspired millions," said journalist Howard Fineman.

Today’s ceremony kicks off a months long series of Grawemeyer Awards 30th Anniversary Celebration events, including lectures by award recipients. For details, visit

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