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Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award recipients include a chef, journalist and many activists

Muhammad Ali Center
Muhammad Ali Center

Through food, words, community organizing and more, the 12 honorees receiving the 2021 Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award have made an impact.

Recipients are in one of two groups: “seasoned” awards and "core principle" awards for people who exhibit one of Ali’s six core principles: confidence, conviction, dedication, giving, respect and spirituality.

Seasoned award recipients are described as, “individuals who have dedicated a significant portion of their lives to humanitarianism and a host of philanthropic causes.”

Two of this year’s recipients of the seasoned award are Louisville-based LEE Initiative co-founders Edward Lee and Lindsey Ofcacek.

They will be honored with the Kentucky Humanitarian Award for their work to address gender inequalities in the restaurant industry.

“This was a really big one for us,” said Ofcacek. “We were both completely blown away, you know, being from Louisville, of course, we all know and respect Muhammad Ali.”

The LEE Initiative began by offering mentorship to women in the industry, but when the coronavirus pandemic hit restaurants hard, they pivoted to address the needs of the entire professional community.

The LEE Initiative set up relief centers to hand out food to those in need, invested in farms and offered grants to Black-owned restaurants.

Lee and Ofcacek have always wanted their work to begin at home, in Louisville. That work is now being memorialized with the name of one of the most famous Louisvillians.

“The Ali Center does this really amazing thing, you know once you’ve been honored with the humanitarian award, your name is permanently put in legacy in the museum,” said Ofcacek.

Beyond the seasoned awards, seven people 30 years old and younger received awards named for one of the six core principles.

2021 seasoned award winners:

  • Ann Curry, award-winning journalist
  • Ina Bond, Chari Emeritus of the Muhammad Ali Center Board of Directors
  • Edward Lee, co-founder of LEE Initiative
  • Lindsey Ofcacek, co-founder of LEE Initiative
  • Richard Lapchick, human rights activist

2021 core principle award winners:

  • Chelsea Miller and Nialah Edari, confidence award
  • Sonita Alizadeh, conviction award
  • Christian Stephen, dedication award
  • Yvette Ishimwe, giving award
  • Clementine Jacoby, respect award
  • Darius Baxter, spirituality award

The inclusion of these younger people as honorees is something that Ofacacek feels directly connects their year’s theme of unity and the overall goals of the Ali legacy. 

“It goes with the Ali mission, that people who want to make a change and to really support their community can do it,” said Ofcacek. “It doesn’t matter if you’re 50 years old and you’re a seasoned philanthropist or if you’re a young person who just really cares.”

Recipients are chosen through a nomination process where people from the Ali Center present ideas of possible honorees.

The nominated people are researched by the Center and narrowed down to the winners.

There is one other person who is important in the process, Lonnie Ali, the late boxing legend's wife.

“Mrs. Ali is very involved in deciding the honorees,” said Jeanie Kahnke, senior director of public relations and external affairs with the Ali Center. 

Kanhnke explained that the awards and their recipients are something that Lonnie Ali carefully considers.

Kathy Sledge, of the group Sister Sledge, will host the event. Award presenters include Lonnie Ali, local chef Darnell “SuperChef” Ferguson, and two of George Floyd’s family members and co-founders of the George Floyd Memorial Center, Roger Floyd and Thomas McLaurin.

Last year, there was no ceremony due to COVID-19. The pandemic is part of the reason why the event will be held at the Ali Center this year.

“We usually have it at a hotel, but with having to plan so far out we decided it was to hold it at the Ali Center,” Kanhke said.

Moving the event has decreased the number of tickets available, so it will also be live-streamed. 

The ceremony will take place November 12.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Eli Goree is not an honoree. It also reflects changes to the hosting lineup.

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.

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