UNITED NATIONS: In late 1970s Muhammad Ali came to the United Nations to campaign against apartheid and injustice and presented one of his drawings entitled “Peace!“ to the then secretary-general Kurt Waldheim. Ali was striving to win a fourth heavyweight championship in that period.
After 20 years, Ali was declared as one of the first U.N. Messengers of Peace, an honor reserved for distinguished people from the arts, music, literature and sports who agree to focus world attention on the work of the United Nations.
Then secretary-general Kofi Annan, who started the program in 1997, said “I chose him because I knew his interest in peace and in the world.”
He said that Ali confirmed that interest with another gift to the United Nations – a drawing of the globe with the inscription: “Service to others is rent we pay here on this earth.” Annan said. “It was so powerful.”
He said. “Obviously, he had lost his speed, his vitality and energy, but the concern for others and the love for peace was very much visible.”
On Sept. 15, 1998, Ali became official Messenger of Peace, at the ceremony in Annan’s office. Annan pinned a small golden dove on his lapel and gave him a videotape of his 1979 speech to the U.N. Special Committee Against Apartheid. Ali gave Annan a pair of his red boxing gloves.
“He said, ‘I don’t need it any more, you take them,'” Annan recalled.
Yvonne Acosta, the manager of the messengers said. Despite being slowed by the disease, Ali remained strongly committed to his new role.
“He would regularly go off on humanitarian trips, taking the title of U.N. Messenger of Peace with him, because that’s just something he loved to do.”
In November 2002 Ali was on three-day trip to Afghanistan when the U.S. invasion toppled the Taliban following al-Qaeda’s September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Ms. Acosta said. “The choice of Afghanistan it was his choice,” she said. “He came to us and said this is something he would like to do, to raise the profile of a Muslim country. … This was the beginning of the war with Afghanistan and he wanted to show support for his Muslim brothers and sisters.”
The Taliban who banned girls from going to school. Ali visited a girls’ school backed by the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF and wanted to highlight the revival of education for girls as well as employment for women. Ali sent an open letter to the children and young people of Afghanistan telling them to “have faith and be a good Muslim, … prepare your mind for the challenges of life” through education and studying hard, and “prepare your body by practicing physical activity and sports, because sports builds fellowship, character, and independence.”
On Friday, thousands of people from the all the corners of the world bid farewell to the boxing legend Muhammad Ali. Bill Clinton said. “We all have an Ali story. It’s the gift we all have that should be most honored today.”
He added. “Besides being a lot of fun to be around and basically a universal soldier for our common humanity, I will always think of Muhammad as a truly free man of faith.”