Inspiring Greatness: Muhammad Ali, Lonnie Ali, and the Muhammad Ali Center

headshot of Muhammad Ali smiling in a suite and tie with right hand under chin

Partners for Youth with Disabilities will be holding its annual Party for PYD on May 18th – but beyond the talented performances, delicious food, and fun activities, the party will be a night to remember because of the event’s incredibly special honorees. PYD’s first honoree, the great Muhammad Ali, is someone who fought hard for inclusion (sometimes literally), and someone whose legacy continues to live on even though he is no longer with us.

Lonnie Ali smiling in a suit with Muhammad Ali museum in backgroundMuhammad Ali, Lonnie Ali, and the Muhammad Ali Center are a few of our unbelievable honorees that will be presented with the PYD Legends Award during this year’s party. As pioneers in societal leadership and mentoring, they’ve embarked on an extraordinary mission to empower people of all ages. They are pillars of leadership in advancing diversity, mentoring, inclusion and strategic advocacy for a better world.

Muhammad Ali, known for his great achievements in his boxing career, didn’t let the fame and money overpower his sense of compassion. Instead, he used his popularity as a platform to influence and educate others on the importance of kindness. Overseas, Ali was dedicated to raising awareness about the struggles of developing nations by fighting in Manila, Kuala Lumpur, and Kinshasa.  He not only delivered medical supplies to an embargoed Cuba, but he also provided more than 22 million meals to the world’s hungry. His philanthropic efforts went around the world to Cote d’Ivoire, Indonesia, Mexico, and many other countries.

At home, he engaged in many renowned charitable organizations, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Special Olympics, and countless hospitals and soup kitchens. Additionally, he made his mark in sports by mobilizing many famous figures such as Mario Lemieux, Andre Agassi, and Lance Armstrong to create the humanitarian network Athletes for Hope. Apart from these groups, Ali put a tremendous amount of effort into generating awareness and research for Parkinson’s disease. In 1997, he established the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center and Movement Disorders Clinic in Phoenix, which brought hope, comfort, and treatment to thousands of patients and families.

Muhammad Ali Center logo in orange, w/black and white letteringMuhammad Ali’s motivation to give back to society was propelled by the saying, “Don’t count the days; make the days count.”  Inspired by such spirit, Ali’s legacy lives on through the Muhammad Ali Center, which features an interactive museum, educational programming, and special events encouraging the public to pursue greatness in their own lives, communities, and countries. This international cultural center promotes the six core principles of Muhammad Ali: confidence, conviction, dedication, giving, respect, and spirituality.  These principles promote both personal and global greatness, and aid the center in providing programming around the focus areas of education, gender equality, and global citizenship.

After being wed in 1986, Muhammad’s wife Lonnie coordinated and managed all of Muhammad’s business affairs. Most notable was her creation of Greatest of All Time, Inc. (GOAT Inc.), where she centralized and licensed her husband’s intellectual properties for commercial purposes.  Lonnie continuously accompanied her husband in his humanitarian efforts all over the world and always supported his charitable organizations at home, including assisting Muhammad in launching the Ali Parkinson Center and the Muhammad Ali Center. Her passion for enhancing educational opportunities for youth lead her to develop the Muhammad Ali: GO THE DISTANCE reading program, which provides teachers with research-based curriculum and practices to motivate learning and improve comprehension. Lonnie is currently on the management board of Muhammad Ali Enterprises and is a Lifetime Director of the Ali Center, where she continues to honor her husband’s legacy.

In his lifetime, Ali was named a Messenger of Peace by United Nations, and awarded both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Amnesty International’s Lifetime Achievement Award. PYD is honored to join the world in recognizing the important work Ali did – in addition to the PYD Legends Award, PYD has been a key leader in establishing a day dedicated to Ali. Regina Snowden, PYD’s Founder & Executive Director, explains, “PYD along with Mentor, Inc. has created a special day of honoring Muhammad Ali (on his birthday) — International Day of Mentoring— January 17th, during National Mentoring Month.”

Although Ali is no longer with us, PYD is proud to carry on Ali’s philosophy that “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” PYD is humbled to honor Muhammad Ali, Lonnie Ali, and the Muhammad Ali Center, and believes that everyone can learn something from their contributions. We hope to see everyone May 18th to pay a small token of tribute to such an influential person.

Also, we’re enthusiastic to share that EverybodyFights FiDi boxing gym and George Foreman III are joining in the celebration of the Ali’s. They are hosting a special Warm Up to Party for PYD boxing circuit workout on April 29th and plan to attend the May 18th party! We hope you join us both dates!

This post was written by Olivia Mannion, Jackie (Xiao) Yan, Juan Zhou, and Mary Grace Alcaro of the BU PRLab. Edited by Nicole Malo.


Celebrate Autism *Acceptance* Month, not Autism Awareness Month

It’s April, so if you’re like me, your social media feeds have been dominated with Autism Awareness Month profile pics and messages. I don’t have the stats to back this up, but anecdotally, I feel like Autism Awareness Month has become one of the most mainstream, widely known awareness months out there (ranking just behind Breast Cancer Awareness Month, in my eyes). It’s impressive, and a testament to the hard work of the autistic community and advocates!

That said, before you change your own profile pic or “Light it up blue,” I’d encourage you to consider supporting a different cause this month: Autism Acceptance Month.

Autism acceptance month is...inclusion!Autism Acceptance Month is a concept that has been around for a while within the autistic rights movement. As an allistic–non-autistic–person myself, I don’t want to man-and-able-splain, when autistic people are more than capable of speaking for themselves. So here’s what Autism Acceptance Month is, in their own words:

“Autism acceptance means embracing autism as a natural part of the spectrum of human diversity and accepting autism as one of many different legitimate, meaningful, and valuable ways of experiencing the world. Autism acceptance means believing that autism doesn’t need to be fixed or cured for autistics to be happy and live good lives.

Autism acceptance means treating autistic people as members of a minority group who are entitled to the same rights as everyone else. It means changing the goal for autistics from “indistinguishability” or “recovery” to living with needed supports and gaining equal opportunity with neurotypicals — supporting autistics as they are. It means helping autistic children grow into autistic adults, rather than mourning the nonexistent neurotypical child they never were.” [Source: Autism Acceptance Day, Autistic Self Advocacy Network]

For such a small change in words, reframing April as a month of acceptance is a powerful concept. I think people are pretty well aware of autism these days! The current research suggests that 1 in 68 children have autism, and after years of media saturation and national discourse, I’d challenge you to find someone that has never heard about autism before. But in the words of Autistic Hoya, “Not all awareness is good awareness, and awareness itself can be the farthest thing from acceptance.”

For years, any discussion or news around autism has always focused on one thing: finding a cure. Vaccines are to blame! Maybe we can find the gene that causes autism and fix it! If you have an autistic child, these are the therapies you have to do so they can be as normal as possible! We’ve focused all our collective energy on seeing autism as a problem that has to be fixed and cured.

But–and here’s the radical idea–maybe autistic people don’t want to be cured. Maybe they like themselves just as they are, and they’d like others to be more accepting and understanding of them. Instead of investing our money in research for a cure, why don’t we spend more money providing services to autistic people that allow them to have more happy, empowering, and successful lives?

“[…]the concept of a “cure” for autism is profoundly unethical and leads to dangerous and even deadly consequences for autistic people. It is also out of line with the consensus of the scientific community, which has recognized the idea of cure as scientifically implausible. Research towards “cure” does not help autistic people or our families, and after decades of protest from autistic people, the public has begun to realize that a world without autistic people is not an ethical or desirable goal.” [Autistic Self Advocacy Network]

Maybe allistic people should instead value the many strengths and abilities that autistic people have, and view autism not as a problem, but simply as a difference. Not abnormal or invaluable, but instead, as a normal and valuable part of the range of human expression and experience.

So this April, I encourage everyone: let’s try to be more accepting.

If you liked this post, you’d love our upcoming webinar Understanding autism: Essential tips & tools for youth workers. It’s happening on Thursday, April 27th, so be sure to register today!