Ali Center to salute McCain, Gossett, three others at annual awards ceremony

The Muhammad Ali Center said today it would honor leaders from the worlds of philanthropy, entertainment, and business at the fourth annual Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards, Sept. 17 in Louisville.

Muhammad Ali
In 1967.

This year’s will be the first since the Louisville native, prize fighter and globally famous humanitarian Muhammad Ali died, in June in Phoenix, after a decades-long battle against Parkinson’s disease. He was buried a week later at Cave Hill Cemetery during a funeral that drew luminaries from government, politics and entertainment across the world.

He and his wife Lonnie co-founded the Ali Center, which opened in November 2005, and attended each of the previous year’s Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards. She will speak at this year’s ceremony, and present several of the awards. The honorees:

  • Philanthropist and businesswoman Cindy Hensley McCain (top photo, left) will receive the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award for Lifetime Achievement; she is the wife of Arizona Sen. John McCain.
  • Academy Award-winning actor and humanitarian Louis Gossett Jr. (top, right) will get the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award for Education.
  • Tony Award-winning actress, singer and activist Sheryl Lee Ralph will receive the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award for Global Citizenship.
  • Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter and humanitarian Jon Secada will be honored with the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian of the Year Award.
  • John Rosenberg of Prestonburg, Ky., an attorney and founding director of the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund of Kentucky, will get the the Muhammad Ali Kentucky Humanitarian Award.

Here are the detailed biographies of the honorees provided by the Ali Center:

Cindy McCain

McCain has dedicated her life to improving the lives of those less fortunate both in the United States and around the world.

Cindy McCain

She serves as co-chair of the Arizona Governor’s Council on human trafficking and on the McCain Institute’s Human Trafficking Advisory Council. She is dedicated to efforts to reduce human trafficking in Arizona, throughout the United States and around the world, as well as working to improve the lives of victims. Through her work with the McCain Institute, several partnerships have been formed with anti-trafficking organizations working on solving various aspects of the problem.

McCain also served on the Board of Directors for Operation Smile, a non-profit organization whose mission is to repair cleft lips, cleft palates and other facial deformities for children around the world.  She was a member of the HALO Trust Board, as well as a founding Member of the Eastern Congo Initiative.  She is committed to raising awareness of the travesties facing women and children in The Congo.

She also sits on the Advisory Boards of Too Small To Fail and Warriors and Quiet Waters. Cindy holds an undergraduate degree in Education and a Master’s in Special Education from USC and is a member of the USC Rossier School of Education Board of Councilors.

McCain is the Chairman of her family’s business, Hensley Beverage Company, which is one of the largest Anheuser-Busch distributors in the nation. She is on the board of Project CURE. She lives in Phoenix with her husband, the Republican senator for Arizona. They have four children.

Jon Secada

Multi-Grammy Award-winner Secada’s career spans over two decades and includes 20 million albums sold and a Broadway starring role in 1995 for “Grease.” His numerous hits, including “Just Another Day,” in English and Spanish established him as one of the first bilingual artists to have international crossover success. Jon also became a popular songwriter for other artists, including Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, Mandy Moore, and Gloria Estefan, including her number one hit “Coming Out of the Dark.”

Jon Secada

Born in Cuba, Secada arrived in Miami at age nine. He is a graduate of the University of Miami, where he also established the Jon Secada Music Scholarship. In addition to his time in the recording studio and on stage, he served as a celebrity judge for four years on the international hit show, “Latin American Idol” and participated as a contestant on Univision’s hit dance show “Mira Quien Balia,” the Latin “Dancing with the Stars.”

Under his organization, Jon Secada Charities, Secada has devoted himself to assisting charitable groups all over the world, focusing on children, education, AIDS research, and child abuse. Specifically, he has supported the Pediatric AIDS Unit at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital, the Lifebeat Concert to benefit AIDS research, Amigos Together for Kids, Make-A-Wish Foundation, as well as many other initiatives. His tribute song, “The Last Goodbye,” was dedicated to the families of 9/11 victims. He included an all-star version in Spanish, which was released as a single, with all proceeds going to the victims’ families.

Seceda was appointed by former President George W. Bush to serve on the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, aimed at closing the educational achievement gap between Hispanic students and their peers. His commitment to education remains steadfast, as he is currently a visiting professor at Miami Dade College, the University of Miami, and Riverside Community College. He also serves as a celebrity mentor for The Inspire and Develop Artists Program. In June, Secada hosted an earthquake relief concert for Ecuador. The funds raised provided permanent shelter and relief to a group of orphaned children.

Louis Gossett Jr.

Gossett is one of stage, film and television’s most recognized and lauded talents.  With over 300 titles to his credit, Gossett has earned some of the industry’s highest honors—including Emmy’s, Golden Globes, NAACP Image Awards, and an Academy Award for his portrayal of Sgt. Emil Foley in “An Officer and a Gentleman” — and now adds author, director, and humanitarian to his accomplishments.

Louis Gossett

He was born in 1936, in Brooklyn. At 17, Gossett caught his first break as the lead for Broadway’s “Take a Giant Step” (1953). His next Broadway role would come in 1959, in the watershed play “A Raisin in the Sun” — a portrayal of African American life written by Lorraine Hansberry.

This led to numerous roles in the 1960s and ’70s leading to 1977, when he earned an Emmy for his performance in the groundbreaking mini-series “Roots.” His menacing work in “The Deep” (1977) and portrayal of a tough but fair drill sergeant in “An Officer and a Gentleman” (1982) brought him rave reviews, with the latter role earning him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

A Los Angeles Times best-selling author (“An Actor and a Gentleman“), Gossett is still working steadily in films and on TV.

With a career spanning six decades, the elder statesman has dedicated this last quadrant of his life to communicate with younger generations and transmit the values of community, self-love, and purpose that have characterized our progress as a people. He established Louis Gossett Jr.’s Eracism Foundation which is dedicated to providing young adults with the tools they need for living a racially diverse and culturally inclusive life. Through his Foundation, Gossett will establish Shamba Centers (Swahili for “farm”) throughout the United States, that offer instruction in cultural diversity, historical enrichment and antiviolence initiatives for young adults, teens and pre-teens to help them understand and eliminate racism by creating a living environment where racism and injustice have a hard time existing.

Sheryl Lee Ralph

Sheryl Lee Ralph has had success on Broadway, on screen and television, with music, and with her philanthropic endeavors. A triple-threat dreamgirl, Ralph’s award-winning work includes creating the role of Deena Jones in the legendary Broadway musical, “Dreamgirls” and earning Best Actress nods for Tony and Drama Desk Awards.

Sheryl Ralph

Her past TV credits include “It’s a Living,” “Designing Women,” “The District,” “Moesha,” and others. On the big screen, she has appeared in “The Mighty Quinn,” “Mistress,” “To Sleep with Anger” and “The Distinguished Gentlemen.”

She has been named one of the top 10 College Women in America by Glamourmagazine and has been recognized around the country for her artistic endeavors, but she finds the most fulfillment in giving back to the global community.

Ralph has spent the last three decades advocating for those infected by HIV/AIDS and educating others around the world about the importance of knowing their status. She is the founding Director of The Divinely Inspired Victoriously Aware (DIVA) Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, created as a living memorial to the many friends she lost to HIV/AIDS while a member of Dreamgirls.

In 1990, Ralph also founded DIVAS Simply Singing!, the longest consecutive running musical HIV/AIDS benefit in the country and has been honored for her one-woman show “Sometimes I Cry,” about the lives, loves and losses of  HIV/AIDS-infected women.

Named one of the most FIERCE & FABULOUS Women in America by ESSENCE magazine, Ralph received her Doctorate in Humane Letters from Tougaloo College and Huston‐Tillotson University for her AIDS activism. She also holds the distinction of being the youngest female graduate of Rutgers College at the age of 19. She was awarded the first Red Ribbon Award at the U.N. for her unique use of the arts in HIV/AIDS activism. Ralph has also served as AIDS Ambassador for Jamaica’s Ministry of Health. She is on the Board of Trustees of Los Angeles Project Angel Food.

In 2008, she and her husband, Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Hughes, started Test Together, a campaign that encourages couples to know their status as an essential first step.

Mother of Etienne and Ivy with a blended family of four, she lives in Los Angeles and Philadelphia with her husband.

John Rosenberg

Rosenberg is best known as the founding director of the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund of Kentucky, which has long been a refuge and advocate for the poor and disadvantaged in the Appalachian counties of the state, but his life and career go well beyond that.

John Rosenberg

After receiving a scholarship to Duke, where he earned a chemistry degree, Rosenberg served in the Air Force. He earned his law degree at North Carolina, and then became a trial attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, where he handled cases involving discrimination in voting, school integration and public accommodations in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.

In 1970, he and his wife Jean moved to Prestonsburg, where he was deputy director of the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund (AppalReD) for Kentucky, which fights such ills as abusive land-use practices and black-lung disease. AppalReD serves 37 counties and has a network of 21 lawyers and 16 support staff.  From 1973 to 2001, he served as the director. Since 2001, Rosenberg has been AppalReD’s director emeritus, helping support its mission and clientele in many ways while maintaining a private, not-for-profit legal practice that focuses on assistance to non-profit corporations serving low-income persons, and pro bono representation of individuals.

But Rosenberg is much more than a lawyer. He is a leading citizen of Eastern Kentucky, who has tried in many ways to address the region’s poverty, isolation, lack of education, corrupt politics, and domination by the coal industry. He helped draft the Kentucky constitutional amendment negating “broad form” deeds that allowed strip mining. Rosenberg and his wife are also longtime leaders in the effort to improve education in Eastern Kentucky, especially in Floyd County. Through their efforts, many young people have benefited from the creation of the East Kentucky’s Science Center, now part of the Big Sandy Community and Technical College.  He was also very involved in forming the non-profit organization Low Income Housing of Eastern Kentucky, which builds affordable housing for low-income people; 75 homes have been built to date.

Among other accolades, in 2015 he was honored by the ACLU of Kentucky for his lifetime work of leading AppalReD.

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