In an hour-long ceremony that emphasized the importance of the words, “We the People,” the 2012 Liberty Medal was presented to boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
Ali, hailed as a champion of freedom, graced the stage at the National Constitution Center about 32 minutes into the ceremony. He walked triumphantly, with a hunched stance and dark sunglasses, and took his seat following a tribute video.
Ali was preceded on stage by Gov. Tom Corbett, actor Terrence Howard and Mayor Michael Nutter. Perhaps the most inspirational words came from Joe Louis Barrow, the son of another boxing icon, Joe Louis. Barrow teared up as he spoke of his dad’s funeral, when Ali slapped his saddened, slouched shoulders, performed a magic trick and told him everything was going to be alright.
The audience clapped. Then, Ali’s daughter, Laila, took the podium. She spoke of her dad’s emotion, relaying stories from her childhood.
“I remember being at home seeing him crying all the time, just watching shows about people in need,” Laila said. “He taught me about compassion.”
Former Sixers center Dikembe Mutombo recalled seeing Ali in his native Zaire, at age 10, when Ali fought George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle. “He gave hope to a whole country,” Mutombo said, adding that Ali also helped bridge the cultural divide.
A few more career highlights were flashed on the big screens, then Laila stood up and placed the Liberty Medal around Muhammad’s neck. There was a brief, yet loud, chant of “Ali, Ali, Ali," from the masses as he was officially awarded the 2012 Liberty Medal.
His wife, Lonnie, spoke on his behalf.
“Muhammad has always believed that if you impact one person at a time. If you treat each person with the same respect that you ask for yourself, you empower people in a meaningful way,” Lonnie said.
She concluded her comments by saying, “Muhammad Ali is a beacon of hope, of compassion, of the goodness of humanity. And tonight, he is deeply honored and humbled, to be a beacon of liberty.”
Singer Roberta Flack closed the ceremony with a stirring rendition of “The Impossible Dream.”
Ali returns to Constitution Center
The event marked Muhammad Ali’s second visit to the National Constitution Center. The boxer/humanitarian visited the museum on June 14, 2003, just prior to the official opening. He was the first person to raise the American flag that hangs in the Grand Hall Overlook.
“Muhammad Ali symbolizes all that makes America great, while pushing us as a people and as a nation to be better,” Center president David Eisner said. “Each big fight of his life has inspired a new chapter of civic action.”