Louisville unites to mourn The Greatest


All buses had a scrolling message in support of Ali.

Olivia Evans

After the passing of Louisville legend Muhammad Ali on June third, a memorial service took place on Friday at the YUM! Center.

The service, which came after a 19-mile funeral procession through downtown Louisville to Cave Hill Cemetery where Ali was buried, featured former president Bill Clinton, Billy Crystal, Lonnie Ali, and many more. 

Every inch of sidewalk from Ninth Street to 34th Street was filled with people out to pay their respects during the funeral procession, many of whom traveled great distances to celebrate the life of Ali.

“I came from North Carolina to see this. It was on my bucket list that if this man died before me, I would make it out to his funeral,” said visitor Hassan Muhammad Ali Ismail.

“I came out because it has to be the biggest honor of my life to get to see this and report on it for ESPN. I hopped on a plane from Canada and now here I am. I’ve been a huge fan of Ali’s since I was a little boy,” said sports journalist Eric Thomas.

Along with the super fans and Ali supporters, many sports celebrities came for the services, such as Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Mike Tyson, and Lennox Lewis.

The memorial service, which was originally scheduled to start at 2 p.m., began an hour later with a moment of silence for Ali, who had planned the service years ago along with his family.

After the moment of silence, Imam Hamzah Abdul-Malik shared some of Ali’s favorite verses from the Quran, followed by an English translation.

One of many notable speakers was Dr. Reverend Kevin Cosby, whose full speech can be seen here. He spoke about Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights movement, and how Muhammad Ali gave “the Negro” a feeling of being somebody after many years of being told they were nobody.

“Ali took the ethos of somebodiness to new heights, before James Brown said, ‘I’m black and I’m proud,’ Ali said, ‘I’m black and I’m pretty.’ This was a time when black and pretty were oxymorons. Ali dared to love black people, when black people had a hard time loving themselves,” said Cosby.

Senator Orrin Hatch (R)  of Utah gave a speech which revealed so much about Ali’s character and how he had the ability to put stark political differences behind him and still make friends.

“It was our differences that made our friendship so amazing,” said Hatch.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, was by far one of the most radical speakers, but also a crowd favorite. He began his speech with a controversial statement proclaiming that all American Jews stand in solidarity with all Muslims worldwide because they understand what it is like to be persecuted for religious beliefs.

Rabbi Lerner also openly supported Hillary Clinton in his speech by telling the crowd to, “tell the next president SHE….” should do this or that.

“Sports heroes come and go; but [Ali] used his fame to fight for the struggle and say, ‘I won’t go’,” said Rabbi Lerner.

Lerner’s full speech can be seen here.

Another radical speaker was Qubilah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X. She told the story of the fraternity her father, Dr. King, Nelson Mandela and Ali had created with their constant battles and fights for black rights. She got very emotional as she said a final goodbye to the last passing member of the historical brotherhood of fighters.

“The globe stopped when they heard about the passing of Muhammad. And in that moment the globe centered all attention on him and the city of Louisville,” said Shabazz.

Lonnie Ali — the widowed wife of Muhammad — thanked everyone that came out in support of her and the rest of the Ali family. She enlightened the audience with the story of how Ali first got into boxing when a white cop came and talked to him as a young boy after his bike had been stolen.

“When a cop and an inner city kid talk to each other, miracles can happen,” said Lonnie.

Natasha Mundkur, Manual grad from the class of 2015 also made an appearance on stage. She told everyone about her personal story and connection she had with Ali. She explained how he had managed to give her strength when she was at her lowest and turn her into a fighter herself.

“We are to find strength in our identities. His cry represents those who haven’t been heard. We are Ali!” said Mundkur.

Mundkur’s full speech can be seen here.

Both Billy Crystal and Bryant Gumbel managed to lighten the mood by telling jokes and humorous stories about Ali, rather than the serious ones the past speakers had told. Crystal recalled a time when him and Ali were at a funeral and how Ali had asked him a question, but it was a silly question and they “were laughing like little kids in church who heard a dirty joke.”

The final speaker of the day was former president Bill Clinton. His speech mostly graced the second half of Ali’s life. After the athletic years were over and he became a true humanitarian. He told the audience that the most important thing Ali did was touch the hearts of young people.

“I think he decided very young to write his own life story. He decided to never be disempowered,” said Clinton.

Several current and former Manual students went out to the events yesterday, including Zohal Osam, class of 1994.

“I came out to show my respects for him. There is a historical connection between Manual and Ali, they are both the greatest,” Osam said.

“Ali’s legacy will continue to be carried out through the work of the Muhammad Ali Center, and the pacifist activism in Louisville,” said Caroline Henry (9, HSU).