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A series of memorials to honor Muhammad Ali began to play out this week in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.
The memorial services were planned by the three-time heavyweight champion himself years ago, CNN reported. The 74 year-old boxing legend died last week after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Events spread over three days culminate with a public memorial service at the 22,000-seat KFC Yum! Center arena on Friday.
Eulogies are expected to be delivered by former President Bill Clinton, sportscaster Bryant Gumbel and comedian Billy Crystal. Also planned are a poetry reading by Attallah Shabazz, Malcolm X’s eldest daughter, and a statement from President Obama, read by his senior adviser, Valerie Jarrett.
Not surprisingly, there is a high demand for tickets to this event. According to Ali family spokesman Bob Gunnell, authorities are targeting ticket scalpers who are trying to profit by selling funeral tickets. Gunnell called their attempts to cash in “despicable,” CNN reported.
The memorial service will be preceded by a funeral procession along Muhammad Ali Boulevard, and past his boyhood home before heading to Cave Hill Cemetery.
Ali’s plans for the memorial services were that they were open and inclusive, giving all his fans a chance to say goodbye. Louisville kicked off the events on Wednesday with an “I Am Ali” festival.
About 14,000 people viewed Ali’s closed casket at a convention hall on Thursday. Thousands of free tickets were made available for the Islamic prayer service to honor Ali, who changed his name from Cassius Clay in the mid-1960s after converting to Islam.
“Ali made being a Muslim cool. Ali made being a Muslim dignified. Ali made being a Muslim relevant,” said scholar Sherman Jackson, a speaker at the service. “Ali put the question of whether a person can be a Muslim AND an American to rest.”
The service was open to people of all faith and attendees, many of whom wore traditional clothes and head coverings, were given a special Quran for the event, according to CNN.
“I saw a Jewish man hug a Muslim man. I’ve never seen that,” said Kashae Robinson, a Muslim woman who drove from Atlanta. “It just makes my heart sing to see something like this. To have all these people, all these colors, all these races, all these religions together.”
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