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Annual festival honors Muhammad Ali's legacy five years after his death

The Ali Festival kicks off with a 'Roses and Remembrance' ceremony at Cave Hill Cemetery on June 3.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Thursday, June 3 marks five years since Louisville's champion, Muhammad Ali, passed away after a decades-long fight with Parkinson's disease.

Ali left a lasting impact on Louisville and the world and over the next 10 days, his legacy will be honored through the annual Ali Festival.

"In a time of polarization and social unrest in our community and nation, it's our hope that the annual Ali Festival will send a renewed message of unity," Interim President and CEO of the Muhammad Ali Center Laura Douglas said.

Thursday morning, Ali's closest friends and family gathered at his grave at Cave Hill Cemetery to talk about his life and legacy. 

"I think it would be fair to say that Muhammad inspired all of us here, not just by the words he spoke, but by the way he lived and the example he set," Muhammad's wife Lonnie Ali said. 

Five years ago thousands of people from all over the world came to Louisville to pay their respects to Ali. They lined the streets as his body was transported to the cemetery. 

"My grandfather spent his life doing acts of good, great and small, no matter the size, always go out of your way to take care of one another," Ali's grandson Jacob Werthemier said. "And I must say, that is the best way to honor his legacy here today."

The festival kicked off with a "Roses and Remembrance for Muhammad" ceremony at Cave Hill Cemetery Thursday. From noon until 3 p.m., the community was invited to visit Ali's grave. The Muhammad Ali Center had 1,000 roses for people to either take home or lay on the grave.

One of the people who came to pay his respects was Butch Zurbriggen from Columbus Ohio.

He said Ali was like a father figure to him and led him down the right path. He had the chance to eat dinner with Ali and has met him several other times as well.

Zurbriggen said he’s made the trip out to Louisville every year since Ali’s death.

“This is the least I could do what he did for me and what he’s done for the world," Zurbriggen said. "I call it sitting with greatness."

In another festival event, the documentary "City of Ali" will be screened at the Muhammad Ali Center through Sunday, June 13. Tickets start at $10 and can be purchased through the Ali Center website.

Festivities will continue through several Louisville neighborhoods as the Ali Community Bus brings activities and care packages through Ali's hometown. The bus will be out on June 7, June 9 and June 11.

Other events include a youth poetry and art contest, a digital exhibit, panels and more. The Galt House and Mark's Feed Store are offering special menu items and a portion of the proceeds will go to the Ali Center.

A full list of events for the 2021 Ali Festival is available on the Ali Center website.

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