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Making a Difference: The Power of a Great Story

Laura Douglas in a blue blouse and scarf with a black jacket.

The purpose of the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville is about more than exhibiting artifacts and photographs from the former heavyweight champion’s legendary career, says Laura Douglas, the center’s interim president and CEO.

It’s about telling Ali’s inspiring life story.

“We believe that by telling his story, in which he rose from humble beginnings in West Louisville to become one of the world’s best-known figures, we are encouraging others to think about their own story as well, which might help them to figure out what they, too, have to offer the world,” Douglas said. “That’s why we say: ‘Do great things.’ Because great things are in each of us.”

Ali’s story takes center stage this month when Muhammad Ali, a four-part documentary from acclaimed filmmakers Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon, airs on KET.

Douglas said it’s fitting the film will be presented on KET.

“KET tells you so much about what’s happening in the state. Whether talking about our history or telling the stories of everyday Kentuckians, KET highlights the magic of this place.”

Laura Douglas

“What the Ali Center does for Ali’s story, that’s what KET does for Kentucky’s story,” Douglas said. “KET tells you so much about what’s happening in the state. Whether talking about our history or telling the stories of everyday Kentuckians, KET highlights the magic of this place. And that lifts our spirits and makes us feel connected.”

Douglas, a retired lawyer who worked for LG&E and the Legal Aid Society and who served as Kentucky’s Secretary for the Public Protection and Regulation Cabinet in the late 1990s, said she can personally attest to the power of great storytelling in one’s life.

Growing up in the Russell neighborhood of West Louisville, Douglas said her parents took a keen interest in the education of her and her eight siblings.

“They had a sense that the world was changing, and they wanted their children to be capable of taking advantage of those changes,” Douglas said. “Education played a big part of it, surely, because that’s how you prepared your children to participate and play a prominent role in your community.”

The family gathered to watch KET “as a matter of routine,” she said. And the stories they watched about Kentucky, she said, opened her eyes to the world around her.

“My brothers and sisters and I especially liked programs that looked at Kentucky’s nature and wildlife,” she said. “It was fascinating to see the range of animals, the topography and where they lived. We felt like explorers every time we watched. And it made us want to learn more.”

Douglas said Muhammad Ali’s story, likewise, has served as a source of inspiration to her and what prompted her to serve on the Ali Center’s board of directors for 10 years. Ali’s career, she said, was complex with many different chapters – the child, the athlete, the protester and the world citizen – a subject fit for a Ken Burns documentary.

“One of the remarkable things about seeing Ali’s story is realizing how much larger than life he actually was,” Douglas said. “He came from such humble beginnings, but he influenced people and still does because of his courage, because he stood up for what he believed and because he reached out to people who were different from him.”