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Louisville, Ky., Celebrates Muhammad Ali With 'I Am Ali' Festival


Muhammad Ali will be laid to rest in Louisville, Ky., later this week. Today his hometown celebrated with a festival that focused on children and their dreams for the future. Rick Howlett of member station WFPL reports.





RICK HOWLETT, BYLINE: On the steps of the Kentucky Center for the Arts, Louisville Mayor Greg Fisher leads children in a chant of the festival's theme, I am Ali, which urges young people to recognize their potential for greatness the way Ali did in the boxing ring and beyond.

Nearby people are lining up to sign a large canvas banner. Because of you, we are a better people, wrote one admirer. Truly the greatest, said another. Thank you for all your strength and courage. Inside the center there were educational booths, zoo animals and places to make crafts or color.

Jenny Friesen, who's not old enough to remember Muhammad Ali's boxing days, came to the festival with her dad and her sister. But the 11-year-old says Ali has inspired her to work hard toward her goal of becoming a teacher.

JENNY FRIESEN: If you're passionate about something that - you can do that if you would like to do it because you're your own person, and you don't have to listen to what other people say.

HOWLETT: Andrea Houston of Louisville, who brought her young niece and nephew, calls the event a blessing.

ANDREA HOUSTON: It's celebrating one of your own and teaching your children that excellence and practice and doing good in school and whatever it is that you desire to do - that you can be great at it if you just put your mind to it.

HOWLETT: Just a short walk from the festival, children are being handed roses to place at a makeshift memorial at the cultural center Mohammed Ali helped build. Tony Jackson, his wife and their two young sons are paying their respects. Jackson says there was much more to Ali than what people saw in the boxing ring.

TONY JACKSON: At the same time he was a loving, caring person, and he loved kids. He loved kids.

HOWLETT: Five-year-old Rodderick Woods, visiting with his mom, is wearing boxing gloves, a cape and a gold medal. He's brought along a poster he's made for the champ and can recite one of Ali's most famous lines.

RODDERICK WOODS: Float like a butterfly. Sting like a bee.

HOWLETT: The mayor's office is planning more Ali events this week, including a bicycle ride through his old neighborhood. For NPR News, I'm Rick Howlett in Louisville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rick has been a member of the WFPL News team since 2001 and has covered numerous beats and events over the years. Most recently he’s been tracking the Indiana General Assembly and the region’s passion for sports, especially college basketball.