Muhammad Ali at the Louisville Palace on Sept. 17, 2015 after receiving the Grawemeyer Spirit Award.
Muhammad Ali at the Louisville Palace on Sept. 17, 2015 after receiving the Grawemeyer Spirit Award.

The University of Louisville on Sept. 17 presented Muhammad Ali with the inaugural Grawemeyer Spirit Award in a public ceremony at the Louisville Palace attended by nearly 1,000.

The Grawemeyer Spirit Award was established to recognize an individual whose beliefs, actions and worldwide impact are in accord with Charles Grawemeyer’s reason for founding the awards program that bears his name. The UofL graduate, industrialist, entrepreneur and philanthropist wanted to recognize innovative ideas and inspire others to make the world a better place. He began the awards in 1984 with an initial endowment of $9 million. The first award was given in 1985.

“Although Mr. Ali and Charles Grawemeyer traveled very different paths in life, their destinations are similar,” said UofL President James Ramsey at the awards ceremony.  “A world where every individual’s worth is cause for celebration; a world in which inspiration plus action can lead to transformation; a world where each of us can make positive change by discovering our own greatness.”

View photos here. Watch videos shown at the event here and here.

The Grawemeyer Awards are given each year in five categories: music composition, education, religion, psychology and political science. The awards draw nominations from around the world and, to date, more than $14 million has been given to 133 winners. The Grawemeyer Spirit Award includes a $100,000 honorarium, a portion of which Muhammad and Lonnie Ali have used to establish a leadership scholarship with the UofL baseball team.

“Muhammad is honored to be recognized by the University of Louisville and the Grawemeyer Awards Committee with the very first H. Charles Grawemeyer Spirit Award,” said Lonnie Ali. “In accepting this award, we are reminded that Muhammad’s life continues to inspire generations of people to discover and cultivate their own path to greatness and to use their talents and successes to empower others in communities all over the world. This award allows Muhammad’s legacy, like Charles Grawemeyer’s legacy, to live on through the people they inspire.”

Journalist and UofL alumnus Howard Fineman, global editorial director of the Huffington Post Media Group, was master of ceremonies for the event, which also included a photo retrospective by longtime Ali photographer Neil Leifer.

The ceremony kicks off a monthslong series of Grawemeyer Awards 30th Anniversary Celebration events, including lectures by award recipients.  For details, visit

John Karman, III
John Karman joined the Office of Communications and Marketing in 2014 after a 20-plus year career as a Louisville journalist. He has served as director of media relations since 2015. In that role, he answers reporters’ inquiries and is the university’s main spokesperson. John was a reporter for Business First of Louisville from 1999 to 2013. There, he won numerous awards from the Louisville chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists and American City Business Journals, parent company to Business First. John can die happy after seeing the Chicago Cubs win the 2016 World Series, although he would also enjoy another title.