Ali Center gets first big corporate gift since Ali's death

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) The cultural center showcasing Muhammad Ali's fights in the ring and outside it against war and segregation has received its first major corporate donation since the boxing great's death.

The UPS Foundation said Monday it is making a $500,000 gift to the Muhammad Ali Center to support education initiatives promoting social awareness and entrepreneurship.

It's the first big fundraising announcement at the center in Ali's hometown in Louisville since the former heavyweight boxing champion died June 3 at age 74 after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. It comes as the center begins charting a course without its namesake co-founder.

Ali's wife, Lonnie, thanked UPS for its donation and said she hopes other companies ''join us in using Muhammad's legacy to create more compassionate global communities.'' The center, which marked its 10th anniversary last November, was founded by the Alis.

''Just as Muhammad's journey was about transformation, so is the work of the Ali Center, which uses the inspiration of Muhammad as a catalyst for championing positive change in the world,'' Lonnie Ali, who did not attend the event, said in a statement.

Ali Center President and CEO Donald Lassere said Monday that a global fundraising campaign will support programs to continue the champ's humanitarian agenda. The goal, he said, is to inspire people to reach their own potential by promoting six core values: respect, confidence, conviction, dedication, giving and spirituality.

''And we're going to need the resources to do that,'' Lassere said.

The center's attendance has surged since Ali's death, with more than 20,000 people passing through the doors. In 2015, visitors totaled about 100,000, center officials said.

Donations account for about 70 percent of the center's income, they said. The rest comes from admissions, memberships, retail sales and private events. The center's annual budget is about $4.5 million.

Brendan Canavan, president of Louisville-based UPS Airlines, said the half-million-dollar gift ''was just the right thing to do.'' UPS also has a sprawling air hub in Louisville.

''Our people really wanted to honor `The Greatest,''' he said.

People visiting the center can watch videos of Ali's famous bouts and his fights as a social justice and anti-war activist. They can punch a speed bag and look at plenty of memorabilia, including a rhinestone-studded boxing robe, a gift from Elvis Presley.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said Monday the center ''is not just a place to come and look at things.'' He praised the center's role in promoting leadership and good citizenship, and said the UPS donation was a challenge to other corporations to step up.

A week after Ali's death, an estimated 100,000 people lined the streets of Louisville to say goodbye to the city's most celebrated son before a star-studded memorial service.

Having sent the champ off ''with style,'' Fischer said, ''our job now is to leverage the legacy of Ali so we can make the world a better place.''

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