Muhammad Ali thronged by student gardeners at hometown event launching ‘Peace Gardens’

By Bruce Schreiner, AP
Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Student gardeners throng Muhammad Ali in hometown

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Muhammad Ali hugged children and posed for photos Tuesday during an appearance to promote a charitable initiative to grow vegetable gardens at schools around the world.

Students at John F. Kennedy Montessori Elementary School in Ali’s hometown helped plant, nurture and harvest vegetables representing popular cuisine around the world. Some of the vegetables were served up at school on Tuesday, and others are being donated to a local food bank.

The school’s project is serving as the prototype for a series of “Muhammad Ali Center Peace Gardens,” which will aim to teach children about nutrition and respect for different cultures.

About 600 children, preschoolers to fifth graders, filled the floor of the Louisville school’s gym to cheer Ali, whose well-known battle with Parkinson’s disease has left him mostly silent at his infrequent public appearances. He was seated for the nearly hourlong event and beamed when a child came on stage to talk about the project.

His wife, Lonnie Ali, made a point about the importance of accepting other cultures when she asked children to stand and discuss their heritage. Children shyly said their families were from such places as Bosnia, Russia, China, Nepal, Vietnam, Mexico, Cuba and India.

Lonnie Ali told the children that learning about different cultures is important as the world becomes more closely connected through the Internet and other technology.

“Just because somebody is different and they come from somewhere else doesn’t make them bad,” she said.

Later, Muhammad Ali posed for photos under a tree on the school grounds. He hugged children, and one small boy playfully put his fist next to the chin of the former heavyweight champion.

Yum Brands Foundation, the charitable arm of fast-food company Yum Brands Inc., will provide $100,000 in grants during the next four years to fund gardens at schools around the world.

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