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“We had to share our dad with the world”: an Interview with Rasheda Ali

by Rachel Walman

Monday, January 16, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a time to remember the contributions of civil rights leaders past and present. Won’t you join us? We’re honored to welcome you and your family to the Museum to meet the daughter of one of history’s greatest symbols of the Civil Rights Movement: Muhammad Ali.

Rasheda Ali, daughter of Muhammad and Khalila Ali and an author and speaker in her own right, will join us to introduce the film I Am Ali, then she’ll welcome your questions during a Q&A after the film. What questions will you ask the daughter of The Greatest of All Time? Seating is limited so buy your tickets in advance. Tickets include Museum Admission.

I Am Ali is an intimate view of Muhammad Ali’s life that includes some of his most private, personal moments: audio recordings he made with his kids. What better person to offer context to Ali as a man and crusader for justice, inside and outside the ring, than his daughter? We sat down with Ms. Ali to chat about her dad and her life as his daughter to get you excited to see the film and hear her speak.

DiMenna Children’s History Museum (DCHM): You are the daughter of legendary athlete and activist Muhammad Ali. What’s one thing that’s amazing about being his daughter? And what’s one thing that is challenging?

Rasheda Ali (RA): Being Muhammad Ali’s daughter has been a blessing but has its challenges. However, the blessings far outweigh the challenges. We understood at a very young age that we had to share our dad with the world.  We didn’t see him as often as we would have wished, but he was not just our champion—he was the world’s champion. Dad helped all who came his way and didn’t miss an opportunity to help raise funds for a cause or to merely bring a smile to a small child’s face.

March 8, 1967: Muhammad Ali trains in New York City for his March 22, 1967 fight vs. Zora Folley.
George Kalinsky, Muhammad Ali at a newsstand in New York City, 1967, Chromogenic print from original scanned film, Courtesy George Kalinsky Ali was interested in polititcal causes related to the Civil Rights Movement. Here he is looking for news about the election between James Meredith and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. for a United States House of Representatives seat from the district of Harlem.

DCHM: On January 16, you’ll be here to introduce the documentary film I Am Ali and join us for a Q & A afterwards with the audience. Why do you think families should see this film? What do you like about it?

RA: Families should see this film because for most of us who know a lot about Muhammad Ali—the boxer and the humanitarian—few have the opportunity to witness him as a caring father and a sensitive man who gave us advice about life and purpose. Family was one of the most important factors to my father. It is the close bond we have with each other that has ultimately made us not only stronger while coping with the challenges of Parkinson’s disease [from which Muhammad Ali suffered] but also more compassionate as adults. The true message for all families to take with them when they view this film is that nothing is more important than the close bond and unconditional love of family and how its power conquers all.

DCHM: You wrote the book I’ll Hold Your Hand So You Won’t Fall – A Child’s Guide to Parkinson’s Disease. What inspired you to write this book?

RA: My children asked me questions about their grandpa and his progressing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (such as slurred speech and tremors) which I did not know how to answer because I was used to the symptoms of Parkinson’s and grew up witnessing the effects of it but didn’t question them. My book not only helped me understand my dad and his behavior but also helped me learn a lot about myself.

3/31/1985 :: Madison Square Garden hosts the first WrestleMania with Champion Hulk Hogan. Hogan and Mr. T took on Rowdy Roddy Piper and Paul "Mr. Wonderful" Orndorff. :: Muhammad Ali
George Kalinsky, Muhammad Ali sits ringside at WrestleMania, 1984, Courtesy George Kalinsky, George Kalinsky took this photograph of Ali in 1984, the year he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease

DCHM: January 17, 2017, would have been your dad’s 75th birthday. Do you have a favorite memory from one of his birthdays?

RA: Dad’s 73rd birthday was my favorite. It was star-studded and everyone travelled to Las Vegas to not only celebrate his birthday but to donate to a great cause: Alzheimer’s research and other neurocognitive disorders at the Keep Memory Alive Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. That weekend, all of my sisters and brothers attended, and Dad and I laughed and tried on funny Halloween masks. I remember showing Dad a photo of the huge mural of his face promoting the event on the side of the MGM Grand Hotel, where the event took place. He was thrilled to be the center of attention that weekend. It will mark a time in history I will always cherish.

DCHM: What is the most important or surprising thing kids should know about your dad?

When my dad was a young boy, he was a huge fan and admirer of Sugar Ray Robinson, who refused to give him an autograph. When my dad became a famous prizefighter, he vowed never to refuse anyone an autograph. Even when he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and it was a challenge to write, he never said no to a picture or an autograph.

circa 1970's: Muhammad Ali, "Ali and Kid."
George Kalinsky. Muhammad Ali training at Madison Square Garden, 1967 Courtesy George Kalinsky. Ali, who had a soft spot for children, took a break from a workout to banter with a young fan. Photographer George Kalinsky recalled this young admirer announcing, “I am the greatest for a moment.”

Watch I Am Ali and meet Rasheda Ali at the New-York Historical Society on Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, January 16. 

Tickets are available at the door, but seating is limited so buy your tickets in advance. Tickets include Museum Admission, which means you can check out two exhibitions about Muhammad Ali before or after the film!
 
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