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Groups See Ali's Legacy As Model For Louisville Youth

Among the many things Muhammad Ali was known for the world over was his affection for and commitment to young people. Just as he would light up in the presence of a child, Ali recognized that young people need something to do with their time to avoid the wrong kinds of influences.

Some Louisville residents are using Ali's death as a platform to call for peace and support for at-risk children and teens.

Ali died late Friday night in Phoenix shortly after being hospitalized for respiratory complications. He was 74. His death is sparking a stream of memorials, marches and festivals in his hometown of Louisville to celebrate his legacy.

One such event Monday evening brought hundreds to Ali's boyhood home on Grand Avenue in Louisville's Parkland neighborhood. Community activists and local officials joined residents to commend Ali's humanitarian work and call on young people to seek inspiration in his life.

Legacy Carter, with the anti-violence group Hood 2 Hood, said young people in Louisville need to become fighters — like Ali — against oppressive forces in their lives.

"Fight against the burdens, fight against the poverty, fight against the embarrassment," she said.

Carter, 19, said for events like Monday's to have any impact on young people, they need to be consistent.

"This can't be the first and this can't be the last," she said. "You have to keep pushing it."

Linkin Bridge, 36, said it takes much more than talk to make a positive change and stir inspiration.

"Everybody wants to be seen, but nobody wants to act, we don't have time for that," he said.

Louisville is facing a surge in gun violence and homicides so far this year. Shootings are up nearly 40 percent over last year, which ended with the highest murder count in four decades.

As city officials and police look for answers, support for youth programming — particularly for those kids from lower-income families or neighborhoods — has been a refrain.

Ali grew up facing adversity in Louisville, and many gathered Monday evening said his life could provide a strong example for kids facing violence in their neighborhoods today.

James Linton, vice president of the West Louisville Urban Coalition, said Ali lived as a champion for peace, justice and equality. He said young people should follow Ali's philosophy, centered on what's considered the boxer's six core principles: confidence, conviction, dedication, giving, respect and spirituality.

"Muhammad's spirit will live on forever," Linton said.

Evan Bochetto, director of the museum at Ali's boyhood home, said children have plenty to learn from Ali's demeanor and his drive and desire for justice.

"They, too, can achieve greatness if they put their mind to it," he said.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer is continuing this week to call on community leaders to find ways to support young people. He announced a festival scheduled for Wednesday afternoon at the Kentucky Center for the Arts that uses Ali as inspiration and will be geared toward children.

"There's no limit to what kids can do if we help them realize their full human potential," he said.

And on Monday evening, standing in the center crowd gathered near the stoop of Ali's boyhood home, Fischer reiterated that call, telling some two dozen young people gathered near him to develop goals and strive for them, just as Ali did.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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