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New leader of the Muhammad Ali Center hopes to usher in an era of collaboration and covening

Marilyn Jackson is the new CEO and president of the Muhammad Ali Center.
Chris Bayer
Marilyn Jackson is the new CEO and president of the Muhammad Ali Center.

Monday is an auspicious start date for Marilyn Jackson’s new job. The incoming Muhammad Ali Center president and CEO will begin on what would have been the boxing legend’s 80th birthday and Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

But Jackson learned that the happenstance occurrence is what some folks at the Ali Center call “Muhammad’s magic.”

“They actually wanted me to start on the 10th, and I said ‘I don’t think I’d be ready to start on the 10th, let’s just start on the 17th’,” Jackson said. “And then later on, Jeanie [Kahnke] told me ‘That’s part of Muhammad’s magic, that you’re starting on Martin Luther King Day, Muhammad’s 80th birthday.”

Jackson said that starting on such a big day for the center will allow her to see the space in action and give her the chance to interact with the public.

“It couldn’t have been a better day to start,” Jackson said.

In celebration of both Ali’s birthday and the federal holiday, the center will be open to the public. 

Screenings of Dr. King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech will be shown throughout the day for visitors.

“In addition, in line with Muhammad’s principle of giving, we’re partnering with the American Red Cross on a blood drive,” Jackson said. “It’s a national concern right now that blood supplies are so low across the country and so we want to give back to the community by signing up for a blood drive.”

The Ali Center will also be donating a dollar from every admission purchased toward the western Kentucky relief fund.

The event aligns well with the direction Jackson hopes to take the space in.

“I think there’s a real opportunity to make the Ali Center a convening center for not only Louisvillians and the local public, but for the country,” Jackson said.

She wants to continue to grow center events while using skills that COVID-19 has taught the public.

“There’s a lot of great programs that I think can be scaffolded up to national programs,” Jackson said. “And while the past two years, during the pandemic, have been challenging in so many ways one of the positive things that have come out of it is that we’ve learned to really work and connect with each other through Zoom and virtual programs.”

Jackson’s effort to make the center a collaborative space goes beyond visitor experience and into the way she wants to lead those working at the center.

“I hope to be really collaborative with staff and really tap into their ideas, their experiences and bring all that life,” Jackson said.

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