In Other News… Muhammad Ali, NRA, Louisville makes ‘top’ lists, Fred Johnson, Jennifer Lawrence and the return of reader mail

Legacy: On June 3, the world lost “The Greatest of All Time,” Muhammad Ali. Weeks later, the globe is still paying tribute to arguably the most famous figure of the 20th century.

First up — a couple of lost photo sessions with the champ. Esquire uncovers “20 Never-Before Seen Photos of Muhammad Ali” from a 1970 story that never ran, mostly because the magazine expected it to be more newsworthy. It wasn’t, so the negatives lay in photographer Carl Fisher’s office for 46 years.

Says Fisher:

“There was never a photograph Ali told me not to take. He was a celebrity, he was an icon, but he never played it that way.”

Ali with Daughter

Ali with Daughter Maryum. Photo: Carl Fisher for Esquire

The New York Times catches up with 96-year-old photographer John Stewart, who recalls his three-day 1977 photo session with Ali. He describes him as a consummate professional, but noted he needed to work quickly because Ali would get bored.

Salon describes his legacy as a journey from “fanaticism to tolerance.”

The Huffington Post revisits “Ali’s Louisville,” one that still grapples with segregated neighborhoods and disparity of wealth and opportunity, a condition not unfamiliar to many a city in the United States.

Last year, The Huffington Post published a report on the “9 Most Segregated Cities in America”; Louisville was No. 4 on the list.

Then there’s Tracy Clayton, whom we talked about a few weeks back, who is just winning everything over at BuzzFeed and the “Another Round” podcast. She walks through her own personal history growing up black in Louisville, what Muhammad Ali meant to her, attending his funeral and his legacy. I was drawn to this line in particular:

The way to create change is to disrupt, to challenge, to make the benefactors of injustice uncomfortable, to shake them at their core.

Unconventional: Ben Fountain attended last month’s NRA convention in Louisville for The Guardian and found more than he bargained for. Somewhere in the 11 acres of guns and gear, he stumbled upon a quest leading him to Hunter S. Thompson, Muhammad Ali and The Festival of Faiths, concurrently running alongside the NRA’s convention.

In the piece, Fountain explores a fear-driven culture alongside Thompson’s warnings on human nature fueled by that fear, juxtaposed with Ali’s refusal to be defined by same fear, echoed by the Festival of Faiths theme, “Pathways to Nonviolence.” That conference featured a panel entitled “Face to Face with Islamophobia,” featuring Spalding President Tori Murden McClure.

Which is all to say as we continue to look at what’s to be done, to ignore the simple complexity of the role of culture and rhetoric in the long history of this issue is to continue to doom us to inaction.

fred johnson

The Reader’s Digest Version: Reader’s Digest is running an essay in its July 2016 issue, penned by Fred Johnson, taken from The Moth. The story tells of a night spent in a Jeffersonville jail cell that would lead him to confront his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and put himself on the path to healing and understanding.

This isn’t the first time we’ve covered Fred in the column and likely won’t be the last. I first met him back in 2014 when he was working for the Fund for the Arts, and he’s an impressive guy with a passion for life that won’t quit. To wit, Kentucky Shakespeare has a new veterans initiative this year. That program largely came to fruition through Fred’s tireless efforts to do something for his band of brothers and sisters as a means of using art to communicate their shared experience to each other and the community.

He was also one of a dozen or two of my co-conspirators on my proposal to Megan, my favorite person in the history of ever. So Fred is tops in my book for a plethora of reasons.

Back to the essay — it’s a great read and an important one to an incredibly complex and layered issue that still doesn’t get the attention it could. We’ve talked before in the mighty “In Other News…” column about the stigma still looming around mental health and wellness, and this can be especially so within certain professions, which makes this piece all the more compelling, necessary and brave.

Well done, sir.

Stretch: Forbes covers a report from job search site Glassdoor on the top “25 cities to make your paycheck go further.” Right in the kind of middle is Louisville, with a median income of $54,000 and median home value of $137, 500.

Detroit is in the top spot, with Memphis and Pittsburgh coming in behind. Of course, Detroit is also rated No. 1 in incidences of violent crime, so there’s the yang to the yin on that one.

Highlander: Real Estate firm Cushman & Wakefield published its inaugural guide to North America’s “Cool Streets.” The report profiles:

“…the rise of dozens of exciting new retail districts across the United States and Canada in urban neighborhoods profoundly impacted by the rise of the millennial consumer. The renaissance occurring on these COOL STREETS has been driven by an explosion of new restaurant and retail concepts.”

“Ignore cool at your own peril,” says the report, which starts with the 15 coolest streets. Louisville is, well, not in there. But the Highlands/Bardstown Road does make the top 100. In fact, the Highlands receives the coveted “Prime Hipness” rating.

Highlands Cool Street

And this is all very interesting and good to see where our independent retail ranks with the rest of the country and what that means to a community. But the vernacular of “FoodieScores,” “Cool Streets,” and “Prime Hipness” makes me want to punch myself in the face.

See also: Brexit. Early winner of the worst word of 2016.

Photo by S.P. Case.

Photo by S.P. Case.

The Grass is Always Bluer: For all the good stuff Louisville has — like a “Prime Hipness” cool street, for example — we still have an inferiority complex from time to time.

Take this list from Thrillist: 20 Things Louisville Doesn’t Have And Really Needs. It’s a healthy mix of franchise envy (IKEA, Nordstrom, In-N-Out Burger, Jungle Jim’s) and some creative yearnings that may be particular to the author, like a statue of Jennifer Lawrence, a disco ball mirror maze, a carousel made of Galapalooza horses and a clothing-optional pool.

Kentucky normally doesn’t score as well in the fitness and health categories, so I’m going to say we’re fine with the perhaps repressed but prudent swimming pools that want the traditional bits covered.

The pro team of some kind would be a good revenue generator, but we don’t seem to be able to agree as a populace well enough to close that deal, with the exception of Louisville City FC.

And of course, always light rail.


Insider: Last week, we talked about the bidding war and ultimate acquisition by Legendary Pictures of the Jennifer Lawrence/Adam McKay project “Bad Blood.” The film follows the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes and her blood diagnostic company, Theranos. Theranos is under fire — and investigation — for its diagnostic machines not being so great at the diagnosing of things.

This week, Vanity Fair goes behind the scenes of that bidding war in its piece, “Bad Blood: Inside the Hollywood Frenzy Around Jennifer Lawrence’s Theranos Movie.” They talk to a few people who offer the following revelations:

Adam McKay and Jennifer Lawrence projects are usually highly acclaimed, lucrative or both.

People want to work with them because of said acclaim and profitability.

The studio willing to spend the most money on the project won the bidding war.

So. Curious how Hollywood works? There you have it. People want to work with successful people and the people with the most money get to do that.

Reader Mail:

Long time reader here. Congratulations on your engagement! However I think all that happiness must be mellowing you out. Muhammad Ali’s death, Orlando, gun control and you’ve hardly said anything. Love the column.

Best to you,

It’s been awhile since we’ve dipped into the reader mail bag. I’ve always said, “love the column” gets you in print every time. Even if it’s “you’ve been slacking off; love the column” it still counts. And the congratulations on the engagement is a good way in now too on account of I’m really excited about that.

That letter came to me as a FB message and she had a lot of other things to say, but that’s the core of it. And while I did a whole week of nothing but Muhammad Ali and he appears again today, and the gun debate was featured last week and and the NRA convention was covered twice now, I think what she’s getting at is that I haven’t really editorialized or ranted about any of it. Which is what she said in another part of the message.

Which is fair. Though I will say, I don’t think Megan would agree with you on the mellow part. I’m still plenty riled.

But part of the silence or perceived silence comes from not really knowing what adds to the conversation and what’s just an exercise in self-indulgence because the platform exists and I have a generous editor.

So I have a few things of personal note on Muhammad Ali. I met him once and it could best described as an uneventful thrill. I was at the Ali Center, he made an unannounced visit and shook the hands and smiled at everyone in the lobby. And he was gracious and generous with his time and he knew everyone was thrilled to see him and I’ll always remember it, but that was that.

The other was at the opening of the Ali Center, which was this huge star-studded affair. I was helping out with the gala, supervising some volunteers, when there she was: Angelina Jolie. I met her. Or stood beside her for 90 seconds or so. I remember she smelled fantastic, like a meadow by the sea. And you know, I think there was something there for a moment. She sensed it too. And then she was gone.

I was told later that Brad Pitt was there, standing right beside her. Never saw him.

That’s not really a Muhammad Ali remembrance, but an excuse to tell that story.

This next one is a real one though. In another life, I headed up an academic leadership program in Louisville, designed in part to mentor a diverse group of high-achieving high school seniors, succeeding through some level of adversity. And throughout the year, they would work on personal, interpersonal and professional development. As part of that training and experience, they’d go to local businesses and attractions to see how the organization functioned and talk to key executives about success and how and why they do what they do.

And so back in 2006, I had just taken over. I had been brought on just two weeks before the next group started. I had some thoughts and theories on success and happiness and some neuroscience tricks to help actualize the group, but really had little idea what to expect and didn’t anticipate staying with the program beyond the first year; I was there just to establish tone and launch things in a more holistic direction.

I will say the first couple of days confounded me, as one after another, all 20 would demonstrate little to no self-confidence, despite the high level of success had qualified them for the program to begin with. Whatever the adversity, it was defining them in a way that denied them recognition of their resilience.

Midweek, we went to the Ali Center.

It was watching the introductory movie, chronicling his journey from a junior at Central High School to the most recognized face in the world that it hit me. I was in a room full of Louisville juniors from various high schools — a few from Central — sitting on the same precipice of possibility as Ali. That regardless of where one stood on his politics or boxing or whathaveyou, here was a man who completely defined and redefined himself, taking his character and persona and both amplifying them and fully embracing and committing to a principle or principles and sense of self and purpose.

It was a decision to be the person he was born to be. And he would do it again when he transitioned from boxer to peacemaker. Nothing there was chance — it was the combination of choice, work and timing.

And if he could do it — a high school student achieving despite society’s determination to hold him back — so could the 21 students in my charge that year. And the next year. And the next year until ultimately the program hit some funding barriers and disbanded.

That’s an oversimplification, mind you, but the point is this: that’s one small instance of Ali’s influence — one of thousands upon thousands of pebbles whose ripples in the ocean have created a giant wave to stand for something that makes the world a better place than how you found it.

That’s a legacy.

See you next week.