Former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali was recognized as a champion of freedom on Thursday night at the National Constitution Center’s 2012 Liberty Medal ceremony.
The event served as the centerpiece for the national celebration of the U.S. Constitution’s 225th anniversary.
The Liberty Medal was established in 1988 to commemorate the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. The award is given annually. The medal honors men and women of courage and conviction who strive to secure the blessings of liberty to people around the globe.
“When I think of my dad, I don’t think athlete,” said a former professional boxer and Muhammad Ali’s daughter Laila. “My dad … I put him on such a high pedestal as a man. I’m just so proud of him. He’s done everything he stood for and basically just standing for what you believe in. I’m very happy and honored to be here to present the award.”
Ali has long served as an icon of constitutional ideals and the realization of the American dream – all the while challenging and expanding the very definition of “We the People.” The Olympic gold medalist and boxing legend has been an outspoken fighter for religious and civil rights; a conscientious objector who took his battle to the Supreme Court and won; an ambassador for peace and justice worldwide; and a timeless humanitarian and philanthropist.
“On behalf of Muhammad, let me sincerely state how incredibly honored he is to be here this evening, as the recipient of the Liberty Medal,” said Lonnie Ali, wife of Muhammad Ali. She delivered the acceptance speech on his behalf. “It is to be honest—overwhelming, especially given the remarkable group of people who have previously been the recipient of the prestigious award. It is especially humbling for Muhammad, who has said on many occasions, “All I did was stand up for what I believe.”
In 1967, Ali refused induction into the U.S. Armed Forces due to his religious beliefs. As a result, he was arrested, fined, stripped of his boxing license and title.
Though Ali was prepared to pay the price for his convictions, the Supreme Court reversed the decision in 1971, ruling that his refusal stemmed from his constitutionally protected religious beliefs. Ali regained his title in 1974 and retired from the ring in 1981.
He has since devoted his life to helping promote world peace and other humanitarian efforts. His work as an ambassador for peace began in 1985, when he flew to Lebanon to secure the release of four hostages. Ali also has made goodwill missions to Afghanistan and North Korea; delivered more than $1 million in medical aid to Cuba.
In 2005, Ali and Lonnie opened the Muhammad Ali Center in his hometown of Louisville, Ky. The Ali Center is a museum and educational edifice that inspires young people and adults. Dikembe Mutombo, former NBA star, and National Constitution Center Trustee, talked about the impact Ali had on his life.
“He’s a great legend,” he said. “He’s someone who has a huge impact on society. He believes in so many things we stand for and what we want this world to become. He has inspired so many young people including myself. I’m just so glad to be here with his wife and daughter and family to share this moment with them.”
Thursday evening’s Liberty Medal ceremony marked Ali’s return to the National Constitution Center. He participated in a special Flag Day ceremony on June 14, 2003 – just before the center’s official opening. In fact, he was the first to raise the American flag that hangs in the Grand Hall Overlook and had previously flown over every state and territory capitol.
Other celebrities at the event Thursday night included Olympic gold medalists Claressa Shields and Susan Francia who joined Laila Ali in presenting the Liberty Medal to Muhammad Ali. Shields became the first American women to win a boxing gold medal at the Olympics. Francia is a two-time Olympic champion and five-time world champion rower from Penn. In addition, Academy Award-nominated actor Terrence Howard, who played Ali in the ABC biopic “Muhammad Ali: King of the World,” Joe Louis Barrow, II, son of professional boxer Joe Louis and Grammy Award winning singer Roberta Flack, Pennsylvania governor Thomas W. Corbett and Philadelphia mayor Michael A. Nutter attended the ceremony.
Ali turned 70-years-old this year. He has continued to break new ground as an advocate for those suffering from Parkinson’s disease, a disease he has battled since 1982. He’s a man who continues to make a difference in the lives of so many people.
“Ali was reason why I got into boxing,” said Tyrell Biggs, an Olympic gold medalist and former professional boxer who also played basketball at West Philadelphia High School. He provided a video tribute to him at the ceremony. “He was so confident. I think to see him do all the things that he’s done has made me a better person.”
Boxing great Muhammad Ali, known for his unabashed self-confidence inside and outside the ring as well as his outspokenness on social and humanitarian causes, is the recipient of the 2012 Liberty Medal.
Ali, 70, will receive the medal in a ceremony on Sept. 13 in Philadelphia at the National Constitution Center. The three-time world heavyweight champion was not in attendance for Thursday's announcement.
Previous recipients of the Liberty Medal, which was established in 1988 to celebrate the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, include rock singer and human rights activist Bono, former South African President Nelson Mandela and former President Jimmy Carter. Six winners have subsequently received the Nobel Peace Prize.
"Ali embodies the spirit of the Liberty Medal by embracing the ideals of the Constitution — freedom, self-governance, equality and empowerment — and helping to spread them across the globe," said former President Bill Clinton, chairman of the National Constitution Center, an institution dedicated to increasing public understanding of the Constitution and the ideas and values it represents.
Liberty Medal sponsors and partners said Ali's lifelong courage and conviction exemplify the qualities that the award was established to honor, from his outspoken advocacy for civil and religious freedom to his philanthropy, social activism and humanitarian efforts.
"Muhammad Ali symbolizes all that makes America great, while pushing us as a people and as a nation to be better," said National Constitution Center president and chief executive officer David Eisner. "Each big fight of his life has inspired a new chapter of civic action."
The fast-talking, boisterous fighter who referred to himself as "the greatest" was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. on Jan. 17, 1942. He took up boxing at age 12 and flourished in the ring, becoming a top amateur and Olympic gold medalist.
Ali won the heavyweight title in 1964, defeating the heavily favored Sonny Liston. Soon after, Ali — who was raised in a Baptist family — announced his conversion to Islam and changed his name.
While in his prime, Ali was stripped of his heavyweight crown in 1967 for refusing to be inducted into the military during the Vietnam War because of his religious beliefs. The decision resulted in a draft-evasion conviction and spurred a long legal fight that ended in 1971, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor.
Three years after his retirement from boxing in 1981, Ali announced he had Parkinson's disease, a degenerative brain condition that some researchers believe may be brought on by repeated blows to the head. Despite the diagnosis, he devoted himself to traveling the world on humanitarian missions bringing food and medical supplies to developing nations throughout the Middle East, Africa, South America and Asia. He also continues to work at home in the U.S. to raise funds for organizations including the Special Olympics and the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Research Center in Phoenix.
In 2005, Ali was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. -- (AP)
Following in the footsteps of his best-seller “An Inconvenient Truth” — made into an Oscar-winning documentary — former Vice President Al Gore’s latest book, “The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change” (Random House, $30), surveys the interconnectedness of digital networks, the shifting balance of world powers, increasing economic globalization, revolutions in the fields of medicine, agriculture and molecular science, the continuing imbalance between human needs and natural resources and other factors influencing the future of our planet. From his earliest days in public life, Gore has been warning of the promise and peril of emergent truths — no matter how “inconvenient” they may seem to be.
“Well, older people — and I’m getting into that realm myself, I’ll be 65 in March — older people have a greater appreciation generally of the need to look out for the next generation and to keep in mind what we leave for those who come after us,” said Gore. “This book, ‘The Future,’ is focused on what we can do to create a brighter future for those who come after us. That’s really what the whole book is about.”
Gore, who takes aim in his new book at corporate media for “suffocating the free flow of ideas,” on Tuesday defended the sale of his own television channel to Al Jazeera. The Qatar government-owned news network earlier this month struck a deal to buy Current TV, the cable news network co-founded by Gore, for $500 million. Gore said that he had no reservations about selling the channel to Al Jazeera, which has won U.S. journalism prizes, but has been criticized by some for an anti-American bias. The new owner plans to gradually transform Current into a network called Al Jazeera America.
“Well, I’m very proud of what my partner Joel Hyatt and I were able to do with Current TV,” explained Gore. “We won every major award in television journalism, but we learned that it is difficult for an independent to compete in an age of conglomerates. And, the time had come for us to make a move, and I am very proud that we have been able to sell to such a distinguished, journalistic organization. Al Jazeera has won a reputation around the world for integrity and journalism of the highest quality. And I think what it means for the American media landscape is a net plus; they will have 24/seven, high-quality news without commercial interruption with American Journalists who are good investigators and good reporters. I think it’s a very positive development.”
Former vice president and New York Times bestselling author Al Gore visits the National Constitution Center to discuss his newest book on Feb. 4 at 6:30 p.m. Admission to the program is $35 and includes a signed copy of Gore’s “The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change.” Advance reservations are recommended and can be made by calling (215) 409-6700 or online at www.constitutioncenter.org.
The Associated Press Contributed to this report.
In its celebration of Black History Month, planners and organizers with the National Constitution Center have added a few wrinkles to their usual offering, including hosting a free admissions day at the end of the month.
Between now and then, the center, located at 525 Arch St., will host a myriad of shows, presentations, tours and performances.
One of the highlighted, ongoing events is the “Breaking Barriers Show,” which analyzes the lives and contributions of several pioneering African-Americans, including Thurgood Marshall, Bessie Coleman, Jackie Robinson and other ground-breaking people of color from the 1700s forward.
“African American History Month is part of our overall calendar of civic events, and focuses on the days - or in this case, months - out of the year when you’re supposed to focus on what it means to be citizen of the United States and the country we live in,” said National Constitution Center Museum Programs Coordinator Jenna Winterle. “We really want to celebrate civics, and African American History Month [observations] is just one of the ways we celebrate it.
We offer a wide array of programming so any visitor who comes in can learn a little bit more about key African American figures and this history of African Americans themselves and freedom, which was a tough journey for the African American culture.”
The center’s offerings also include a life-sized board game situated in the Grand Hall, which allows families to test their knowledge of African American history. The idea is that the children (and adults) can advance on the board with every correct answer. “It’s a giant-sized board, with our staff asking the questions,” Winterle said. “We do tailor it to African American history, instead of the usual constitutional questions. It’s a real fun game.
“We also have a few other, short educational programs, that run about 20 minutes, and highlight different aspects of African-American history,” Winterle continued. “We have a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation; not the original, which was hand-written, but a printed copy. Only 40 or 50 were ever made, and there’s only about 20 still around. They were auctioned off to raise money during the Civil War. The Emancipation was a great moment in American history, so we do a little workshop, were we look at Abraham Lincoln’s signature, the watermark and history of the emancipation itself.”
The month-long celebration also includes daily self-guided tours with an African-American focus, along with several displays, including artifacts from free African Americans from the 1700s, and invitation and ticket to President Barack Obama’s 2009 Inauguration and the expansive “American National tree,” an interactive exhibit that highlights African Americans who helped shape the constitution over the past two centuries. The events culminate with a free admission in Sunday, February 24.
“We’ve always celebrated African American History Month, but expanded it over the past few years with the self-guided tour and the artifacts in the collection that we wanted to highlight,” Winterle said, noting that an ongoing exhibit, “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition,” has similar interest, as it includes the Harlem Renaissance and the music and culture of the time. “This [culture] is something we’ve always recognized.”
The National Constitution Center is hosting two weeks of fun and engaging activities for children and their families on spring break.
In an effort to keep children busy and productive during spring break, the festivities will include musical performances, songwriting workshops and many more activities.
The events at the National Constitution Center from April 2 through April 15 are aimed to relay the idea of freedom of expression. The coordinators are also promoting the “From Asbury Park to the Promise Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen” exhibit.
“The Bruce Springsteen exhibit shows people how an artist can use their talents and voice as freedom of expression,” said Nora Berger-Green, director of theater programs at the National Constitution Center. “He inspires social change through words and music so all of our programming is catered around the idea of using music and art.”
Along with the exhibit, the center partnered with the Philadelphia Folksong Society’s Music co-op to showcase local musicians.
There will be performances from artists during the week Monday through Friday, along with interactive workshops. The workshops include harmonica lessons and songwriting sessions.
The songwriting workshops are for children 8–14 and registration is free. The award-winning duo Two of a Kind will host the workshop April 14, 10 a.m. to noon in collaboration with the Philadelphia Folksong Society, an organization dedicated to implementing folk music in Philadelphia.
The participants of the workshop will have the opportunity to perform their original songs in front of an audience in the Kirby Auditorium following the workshop.
“We really want to talk about decoding lyrics and what do they mean,” Berger-Green said. “It reaches a wide variety of audiences, those ‘too cool teenagers’ and younger kids who are excited as well.”
The organizers intend to reach guests of all ages and for the events to be family-oriented. They incorporated Springsteen and other educational workshops to stress social change.
The events will take place in the lobby of the National Constitution Center and participation is free but the spring break organizers encourage guests to partake in other venues the center has to offer. Berger-Green and her colleagues believe this is a good alternative to enjoying the break.
“You don’t want kids to feel like they have to go to school on their break, but you do want them to feel like they can have some fun and it can be productive,” she said. “Since some parents are working, we give the kids something great to do during the break — we have done spring break events in the past but this is one of our largest adventures.”
The year 1968 was one of the most turbulent 12 months post-World War II and rocked the foundations of American society. From the Vietnam War to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the extraordinary events of that year witnessed profound change in social and political systems and confirmed to citizens of all ages that fundamental change was both possible and necessary. This spring, “The 1968 Exhibit” brings one of America’s most colorful, chaotic, culture-shifting years richly to life.
Whether you remember the year personally or discovered Jimi Hendrix from iTunes, “Planet of the Apes” on Netflix and Vietnam in text books, “The 1968 Exhibit” is an experience to be shared and discussed across generations. Organized by the Minnesota History Center in association with the Atlanta History Center, the Chicago History Museum, and the Oakland Museum of California, the exhibition promises to be a multimedia treat.
“The year 1968 was a pivotal chapter in our nation’s history, as ‘We the People’ pushed the boundaries of the Constitution and our freedoms by exercising our right to free expression, protest, and petition in revolutionary ways,” says National Constitution Center Interim President and CEO Vince Stango. “The 1968 Exhibition does a good job balancing the highs and lows experienced by our nation during the year. It promises to be a nostalgic flashback for those who lived it and eye opening for anyone who wasn’t yet alive to experience it firsthand.”
A turning point for an entire generation coming of age and a nation engaged in war, 1968 was comprised of 12 months of memory-stamping events including the peak of the Vietnam War; the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy; riots at the Democratic National Convention; Black Power demonstrations at the Summer Olympics; feminist demonstrations at the Miss America pageant and much more. Organized by the months of the year, the 5,000-square-foot exhibition will feature over 100 artifacts.
The National Constitution Center presents “The 1968 Exhibit” from June 14 – Sept. 2. For more information, call (215) 409-6700 or visit www.constitutioncenter.org.
Supporters of President Barack Obama, who gave first lady Michelle Obama an enthusiastic reception in Philadelphia this week, were confident that he would win a second term — while admitting he has a tough battle ahead of him.
The first lady spoke to a crowd of about 1,100 vocal Democratic supporters on Wednesday at the National Constitution Center.
“Nothing is ever easy,” said Zakiyyah Abdul-Raheem of West Philadelphia, who said she came to see Michelle Obama as a way to show her support for the president.
“He’s done a wonderful job,” she said. “But, he’s been blocked ever since he took office. He’s tried to do everything he’s promised.”
Michelle Obama urged Philadelphians to get out the vote for the president on Nov. 6.
The upcoming election will be a first for Pennsylvania — in that for the first time voters will be required to show a valid, state-approved photo identification before they are permitted to cast their ballot. Critics say the measure will keep the young, the poor, senior citizens and minorities from the polls. Abdul-Raheem said she had a photo ID and was ready to vote.
“I’m making it my personal mission to make sure every senior citizen in Philadelphia has one,” she said.
The first lady wrapped her appeal for support in the narrative of her and the president’s working class roots, appealing to all age groups and demographics to throw their support to her husband.
“It’s not just because we want to win an election — which we do. We’re doing this because of the values that we have. We’re doing this because of the vision for this country that we all share,” she said. “We want to restore that basic middle class security for our families in this country.”
Her vision sprang from her own family roots, she said.
“You all know my story. My father was a blue-collar worker at the city water plant. My family, we lived in a little-bitty apartment on the South Side of Chicago,” she said. “My parents never had the kinds of educational opportunities that me and my brother had. But let me tell you, growing up, I saw how they saved and they sacrificed, and they poured everything they had into me and my brother — because they wanted us to have the kind of education they could only dream of.”
Achievement like that is more difficult today, she said, adding that she and the president hoped to restore it.
“We believe that responsibility should be rewarded and that hard work should pay off. We believe that everyone should do their fair share and play by the same rules,” she said. “These are basic American values. They’re the values that so many of us were raised with, including myself.”
Speaking just 152 days before the election, Michelle Obama visited the city on the day that Franklin & Marshall released a poll showing the president with a 12 point lead in Pennsylvania.
Her speech seemed to galvanize supporters.
Reynold Gordon of Mount Airy compared the speech to Barack’s 2004 speech at the Democratic Convention.
“Hope for changes started that day,” he said, acknowledging that the president has a long road ahead of him. “As tough as it will be, we will eventually win.”
Gordon too, said he had a photo ID and would not be barred from voting.
“I would show them two or three IDs,” he said. “Everyone has the right to vote.”
Victoria Jones of Center City said she too intended to vote for the president in the fall.
“He’s helping all people,” she said. “He’s trying to get people jobs.”
Jones was already prepared for Election Day with a photo ID as required by a new state law.
“It was inspiring,” said Mohamed KaKay, 23, of West Philadelphia. “She is a great advocate for her husband. She touched on a lot of political issues that are relevant to me.”
KaKay said he voted for Barack in 2008 and intends to do so again.
“I was so close to her — I have to vote for her husband,” he said. “She’s definitely a good first lady.”
Obama, in a broad acknowledgement of the importance of the people in the audience, said her husband couldn’t do it “without the kind of grassroots work that you all are doing. That work is at the core of this campaign. It’s everything we’re about.”
It was the second time in just a few months that the first lady has visited Philadelphia.
In April, she visited the University of Pennsylvania to roll out one of the administration’s health care initiatives.
Since assuming the role as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in 2009, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has inspired many.
Drawing a large crowd, the National Constitution Center recently hosted Sotomayor to discuss her memoir, “My Beloved World.”
As a way to properly kick-off Women’s History Month, the Constitution Center hosted Sotomayor last Friday.
In a conversation setting with the University of Pennsylvania’s President, Amy Gutmann, Sotomayor discussed her early life growing up in the Bronx, making decisions on her education and career and read passages from her memoir as it related to the conversation.
Sotomayor shared her love for the Constitution Center, this nation and declared it as the “greatest nation of all.”
With a large crowd engaging in the moderated conversation and interview session between Sotomayor and Gutmann, they listened as Sotomayor described what it was like growing up in the Bronx and attending Catholic School. She explained how both have shaped her into who is she is; and attending Catholic school taught her she could choose to be a “good or bad person.”
Receiving a bachelor’s from Princeton University in 1976, Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude and received the university’s highest academic honor.
Three years later, she earned a J.D. from Yale Law School where she served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal. Sotomayor began her career as Assistant District Attorney in the New York Country District Attorney’s Office and would eventually become the first Hispanic and third woman on the U.S Supreme Court.
The staff of the Constitution Center was pleased and proud to have Sotomayor share her inspirational story.
“We had some amazing feedback. The visit of any Supreme Court Justice to the National Constitution Center is a historic moment. And to have our first Hispanic woman Associate Justice visit at the beginning of our Women’s History Month celebration was a landmark event for us,” said Lauren Saul, director of public relations. “Her ability to relate to people of all ages in the crowd, from students to business leaders and historians to local residents, was incredible. She inspired people to embrace their heritage and pursue a life that serves our nation and respects the U.S. Constitution. It was evident that Justice Sotomayor tries to impact wisdom on younger generations and treats her appearances as an opportunity to inspire the next generation of leaders and active citizens.”
Sotomayor explained her heritage has played an integral role in her career and at times she may have not realized its positive impact.
She described the best “perk” as being able to affect change and shared her admiration, along with the other Justices, for Justice John Paul Stevens [retired in 2010].
The Vietnam War. Civil rights and Women’s Lib. MLK and RFK. “Laugh-In” and love-ins. The National Constitution Center’s “1968” exhibit is a multimedia, multi-generational presentation that brings one of America’s most colorful, chaotic and culture shifting years to life.
“The 1968 Exhibit” is organized by the Minnesota History Center in association with the Atlanta History Center, the Chicago History Museum and the Oakland Museum of California, and promises to be a treat whether you remember the year personally or discovered Jimi Hendrix from iTunes, “Planet of the Apes” on Netflix and Vietnam in text books.
“As we were developing the exhibit and talking to people who experienced that year, the one word that came up over and over was ‘overwhelming,’” said Minnesota Historical Society Exhibit Curator Brain Horrigan. “People described being caught up in this seemingly endless cascade of shocking events, shaking the country — the world, really — to it’s very core.
A turning point for an entire generation coming-of-age and a nation and engaged in war, “1968” is comprised of 12 months of memory stamping events, including the peak of the Vietnam War; the assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy; riots at the Democratic National Convention; Black power demonstrations at the summer Olympics; feminist demonstrations at the Miss America pageant and so much more.
The year also featured memorable moments in pop culture and history including movies like “2001: A Space Odyssey,” television shows like “Julia,” starring Diahann Carroll and the opening of the musical, “Hair.”
Organized by the months of the year, the 5,000-square-foot exhibition features over 100 artifacts.”1968” also features three immersive and interactive lounges that focus on movies, music, television and design from that pivotal year. Visitors can settle into bean bag chair in the “Television Lounge” to watch TV clips or highlights from the Olympic Gamers, Super Bowl II or the 1968 World Series. In the “Music Lounge,” original albums cover the wall, and visitors can take a music quiz or make their own LP covers to share on Facebook. The “Style Lounge” allows guests to explore the consumer world of 1968 from plastic molded into furniture or shaped into household goods, along with denim jeans, wood paneling and shag carpeting. The “Community Lounge” was created by the NCC and features a special program entitled, “Stories of ‘68,” where Philadelphians can share their recollection of the era.
“The year 1968 was a pivotal chapter in our nation’s history, as ‘We the People’ pushed the boundaries of the Constitution and our freedom by exercising our rights to free expression, protest and petition in revolutionary ways,” said National Constitution Center President /CEO Jeffrey Rosen. “It was a year of extremes, with both turbulent flows and spectacular highs. I am excited that the exhibition will inspire conversations among visitors about a time in our history that has left an indelible impact.”
The National Constitution Center presents “The 1968 Exhibit” from June 14 - Sept. 2, 2013. For more information, call (215) 409-6700 or visit www.constitutioncenter.org.