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Khaliah Ali on “Rumble in the Jungle” humanitarian visit to Congo

Khaliah Ali, daughter of legendary boxing icon Muhammad Ali, is honoring the 35th anniversary of the historic “Rumble in the Jungle” bout between Ali and George Foreman by making a humanitarian visit this week to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

This marks the first time that an Ali family member has returned to Kinshasa, the city where one of sports most historic events occured, said a news statement about Ali’s visit.

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Photo by Jowan Gauthier

Khaliah Ali’s visit to the Congo culminates tomorrow, October 30, at the Mai 20 Stadium, site of “Rumble in the Jungle,” when world heavyweight champion George Foreman faced off against former world champion and challenger Muhammad Ali.

In what has since been regarded as one of the classic fights of history, Ali regained the title, defying the predictions of most pundits. “Rumble in the Jungle” continues to be re-aired several times a year on cable television.

“My father and the Congolese people share a remarkable bond born from an event that empowered a country and supported him as he reclaimed his heavyweight crown,” Ali said in the statement. “I know that the spirit of the 60,000 people who witnessed the fight lives inside his heart to this day.

“It has been my dream to show my deep affection and gratitude to the Congolese people for the integral role they played in my own family’s history.”

“It has been my dream to show my deep affection and gratitude to the Congolese people for the integral role they played in my own family’s history.

“Additionally, this trip offers an opportunity for me to become further involved in ongoing relief programs and to gain a fuller understanding of the progress underway in the western and southern regions and the tragedies that still exist in the east.”

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Photo by Jowan Gauthier

Social activist, author, and fashion designer, Khaliah Ali is engaged with numerous philanthropic activities, including serving as board member of Big Brothers Big Sisters International; on-air spokesperson for Youth at Risk; Advisory board member and spokesperson for Help USA; chairwoman for the Friends of The Statue of Liberty Foundation; director of development for the Urban Retrievers Program; youth entertainment consultant to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation; and senior staff member with the Job Core Program.

She is using her visit to the Congo to raise awareness fpr the efforts of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and otner humanitarian agencies serving the country.

Prior to her departure for the Congo, Ali prepared this statement about why she identifies with the people of the Congo and wants to help the country overcome its current challenges:

By Khaliah Ali

October 30 will mark 35 years since my father, Muhammad Ali, fought his first boxing match outside the U.S.–the “Rumble in the Jungle,” which took place in the Congo.

The Congo was struggling–a young, impoverished country seeking identity on the world stage. My father was struggling too–his opponent was twice his size and younger than he was. A lot was riding on this fight.

But the iconic moment of that trip for him was not his win. It occurred perhaps the next morning, when after a thorough search, no one could find him to engage him in victory celebrations. Finally, he was located in a dusty village doing magic tricks for children.

He had intuitively grasped the bond. Here was a country that had just come out of unimaginable oppression in its successful bid for independence but had far to go.

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Khaliah Ali (left) with Noella Coursaris Musunka, a Congolese fashion model who founded the Georges Malaika Foundation. Together they placed the first stone for a new girls’ school in Katanga.

Photo by Jowan Gauthier

My father, a black man who had grown up in Louisville, Kentucky, was the embodiment of overcoming every obstacle imaginable, of the notion that you can get “here” from “there.” His bringing attention to the Congo, and the plight of the Congolese, was their iconic moment–their own version of George Washington crossing the Delaware.

But the Congo is still crossing. The country is plagued by a horrific civil war in the east where tens of thousands of women are being raped. Rape is being used as a weapon of war, in fact, to damage the population in that region to the point that they won’t reproduce.

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Photo by Jowan Gauthier

I am too young to remember my father’s trip. The day I was born, Father’s Day 1974, he gave a press conference to talk about the fact that he would be going abroad in a few months.

But I am not too young to know that my father, who came of age during the Civil Rights era, knows the importance of never allowing anyone else to be devalued, of never accepting the status quo. That is why, with a mixture of pride and determination, I leave for the Congo to continue to help build the humanitarian bridge for which he laid the cornerstone so many years ago.

With Noella Coursaris Musunka, a Congolese fashion model who founded the Georges Malaika Foundation, I will lay the first stone for a new girls’ school in Katanga. It’s been proven that when girls go to school, a nation’s GDP increases, and the rates of HIV infection dramatically decrease. Educated girls are not so easily forced into marriages with men who take many partners at once.

We will also visit a women’s entrepreneurship college, where women are taught skills that will allow them to succeed in business, choose their own destinies, and help build a vibrant country. Without women, half of a nation’s population, a country has no backbone.

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Photo by Jowan Gauthier

We will be visiting programs benefited by UNICEF, The United Nations World Food Programme and other helping organizations.

I will also have the opportunity to speak to the students of The University of Lubumbashi and The University of Kinshasa and learn about the diverse needs of the Congolese people.

My father is no longer in the position to make such a trip easily. But I will be accompanied on this journey “back” by my 10-year-old son. To this young boy’s grandfather, that’s how it should be. Humanitarian efforts are supposed to stretch seamlessly not only from nation to nation but also from generation to generation.