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The Ali Center's Donald Lassere

Renee sits down with Donald Lassere, president and CEO of the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville. They discuss Ali's life and career and the festival celebrating his legacy called "I Am Ali."
Season 12 Episode 37 Length 28:46 Premiere: 06/16/17

Honoring “The Greatest” at the Ali Center

Life-changing moments can happen when we least expect them.

Take the boy who was determined to beat up the crooks who stole his red Schwinn bicycle. The policeman to whom the boy reported the theft asked the scrawny 12-year old if he had any experience with fighting. He didn’t, the boy admitted, but he was going to whoop the thieves anyway.

That random sequence of events – a bicycle theft and a chance encounter with a policeman who taught boxing classes – helped launch the transformation of a Louisville kid who would become Muhammad Ali, a three-time world heavyweight boxing champion, humanitarian, and social and political activist.

Now in the spirit of Ali’s legacy, the museum in his name wants to help all children discover and embrace their red bike moments when life-changing transformation is theirs to make.

On KET’s Connections, host Renee Shaw spoke with Donald Lassere, the president and CEO of Louisville’s Muhammad Ali Center about the organization’s mission to tell the story of the boxing legend’s life and share his deeply held values.

Exhibits Explore the Values that Shaped Ali
The Muhammad Ali Center does document the legend’s career inside the ring, but Lassere says the facility is much more than a boxing museum. It’s a place where visitors can explore the values that guided Ali throughout his life: confidence, conviction, dedication, giving, respect, spirituality.

For children, especially those who may only know of Ali as a champion boxer, a visit to the museum is an especially powerful experience. They learn about Ali’s civil disobedience and opposition to the Vietnam War, his tireless work for charitable and humanitarian causes, and his efforts to promote peace and tolerance among peoples around the world. Lassere says they see how a scrawny kid named Cassius Clay (Ali’s birth name) could rise from a segregated West Louisville neighborhood to become one of the most recognizable figures in the entire world.

“What they really get out of it is the fact that if you have some guiding principles and you have some strong beliefs, you can accomplish anything in life no matter where you come from,” says Lassere.

As they tour the center, children can make a video about their red-bike moments and they can make an old-fashioned boxing poster that depicts them as “the greatest.” At the same time, though, Lassere says they’re learning important lessons about how they can conduct themselves even during troubling times. For example, Lassere says displays explore how Ali and other conscientious objectors protested America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

“He [is] a great example of protesting the U.S. government and protesting the system in a non-violent way: He used his voice,” Lassere says. “If we can get people to understand your voice is a powerful tool, then you don’t have to substitute that tool with violent weapons.”

The Center is also part of a six-week, city-wide commemoration of the boxer. The ‘I Am Ali’ festival started on June 3, the first anniversary of Ali’s death, and runs through mid-July. Each week of the festival features events and programs built around one of Ali’s core values.

The Center is participating with a range of special exhibits, including a look at how women and minorities have broken barriers in sports. They’re also hosting a health and fitness festival, a special night of boxing at Louisville’s Freedom Hall, screenings of films about Ali, and the modern-day premiere of a recently discovered string quartet by Florence Price, the first black woman to be considered a symphonic composer in the United States.

Inspiring Greatness in Others
The Ali Center opened in 2005, and Lassere has been at the helm of the organization since 2012. He says Ali was an influential figure for him as a child in Chicago.

“As I was growing up, my community used him as an example for standing up for what you believe in, but more importantly, accepting the consequences for that belief,” Lassere says.

Ali was decades into his battle with Parkinson’s disease when Lassere arrived at the center, but he says the champ remained a commanding a figure in person. He says he traveled with Ali to the 2012 Olympic Games in London and got to see how people from around the world responded to the champ.

“No matter what time of day, no matter how he was feeling that day, he always lit up the room,” says Lassere. “He made people feel this certain magic that surrounded him.”

Since Ali’s death, Lassere says he’s felt a heightened sense of responsibility to ensure that the boxer’s legacy inside and outside of the ring are preserved so that people can be inspired to do their own part to change the world.

“His story is one for the ages, but more importantly it’s one for the future because it will give people an example how you can succeed, no matter where you come from,” says Lassere. “If you can keep that up, keep that momentum, it will help us continue to fight things that are happening today and promote peace, love, unity, and compassion.”

Each year the Center honors individuals from around the globe who are living out Ali’s legacy of peace, social justice, and human rights. Past winners of the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards have included former President Jimmy Carter; football Hall of Famer Jim Brown; actors Harry Belafonte, Susan Sarandon, and Geena Davis; and musicians Common, Christina Aguilera, and Jon Secada

Lassere says the Center also annually honors six individuals under 30 years old who serve as role models for each of Ali’s core values. He says that diverse group of individuals has included a Pakistani teenager who advocates for access to education and an end to forced marriage in her country, and a young Ugandan man who created mobile hospital units to improve health care access in remote parts of his country.

“For these kids to step up and say ‘I’m going to make a difference,’ despite the odds that they’re facing, it is genuinely an inspiring thing,” says Lassere.

Whether it’s with the humanitarian honors or through the ongoing exhibits, Lassere says he wants everyone who comes in contact with the Ali Center to come away with the belief that they too can be the greatest. And like the young boy who had his bicycle stolen, that journey to greatness can start when we least expect it.

“There’s a point in time where we all have these transformational moments,” Lassere says. “You have to be ready to take advantage of that opportunity.”

Watch a KET special about the opening of the Muhammad Ali Center in 2005.

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Season 12 Episodes

Kinship Care Activist Katie Okumu

S12 E46 Length 26:27 Premiere Date 08/25/17

Photographer Carol Peachee

S12 E45 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 08/18/17

Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative

S12 E44 Length 28:28 Premiere Date 08/11/17

Sec. Vickie Yates Brown Glisson

S12 E43 Length 29:17 Premiere Date 08/04/17

Criminal Justice Reform

S12 E42 Length 28:08 Premiere Date 07/28/17

Kayla Rae Whitaker

S12 E41 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 07/14/17

Uncovering Bias in Preschool Education

S12 E40 Length 29:01 Premiere Date 07/07/17

The Latest Data on Kentucky's Kids

S12 E39 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 06/30/17

Building Leadership Skills

S12 E38 Length 29:01 Premiere Date 06/23/17

The Ali Center's Donald Lassere

S12 E37 Length 28:46 Premiere Date 06/16/17

Improving Nutrition in the Daily Diet

S12 E36 Length 27:06 Premiere Date 06/09/17

Alzheimer's Disease

S12 E35 Length 28:19 Premiere Date 06/02/17

Innovation at the Alltech Conference

S12 E34 Length 28:33 Premiere Date 05/26/17

Political Journalist Cokie Roberts

S12 E33 Length 28:06 Premiere Date 05/22/17

2017 Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit

S12 E32 Length 28:03 Premiere Date 05/12/17

Alison Lundergan Grimes

S12 E31 Length 28:37 Premiere Date 05/09/17

Sexual Trauma in the Military

S12 E30 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 05/02/17

Foster Care

S12 E29 Length 28:46 Premiere Date 04/24/17

Justice Secretary John Tilley

S12 E23 Length 29:36 Premiere Date 04/14/17

Job Training in Kentucky

S12 E22 Length 29:31 Premiere Date 03/24/17

Kentucky Tourism

S12 E21 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 02/24/17

Reducing Youth Violence

S12 E20 Length 28:21 Premiere Date 02/17/17

State Treasurer Allison Ball

S12 E19 Length 28:51 Premiere Date 02/10/17

Poverty in America

S12 E18 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 02/03/17

Homelessness in Kentucky

S12 E17 Length 28:46 Premiere Date 01/27/17

Sadiqa Reynolds

S12 E16 Length 28:06 Premiere Date 01/20/17

Cory Jewell Jensen

S12 E15 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 01/13/17

Bill Goodman

S12 E14 Length 28:37 Premiere Date 01/06/17

Promoting Health Equity

S12 E13 Length 29:01 Premiere Date 12/16/16

Kentucky's Teacher of the Year

S12 E12 Length 27:22 Premiere Date 12/09/16

Important Issues for Seniors

S12 E11 Length 28:20 Premiere Date 11/18/16

Nonprofit Organizations

S12 E10 Length 28:22 Premiere Date 11/11/16

Iris Wilbur and Colmon Elridge

S12 E9 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 11/04/16

Alzheimer's Disease

S12 E8 Length 28:32 Premiere Date 10/28/16

Activism Through Music and Art

S12 E7 Length 28:31 Premiere Date 10/21/16

Paducah's Merryman House

S12 E6 Length 28:07 Premiere Date 10/14/16

The Achievement Gap

S12 E5 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 10/07/16

Discussing Domestic Violence

S12 E4 Length 28:32 Premiere Date 09/30/16

Musician Jon Secada

S12 E3 Length 29:13 Premiere Date 09/23/16

Playwright Mitzi Sinnott

S12 E2 Length 27:12 Premiere Date 09/15/16

FDA Chief Dr. Robert Califf

S12 E1 Length 26:26 Premiere Date 09/09/16

Smoking Cessation and Pregnancy

Preview Length 29:32 Premiere Date 09/08/17

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  • Monday December 26, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday December 26, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday December 26, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY

Sexual Harassment Issues - Consultant Rus Funk

Premiered On: 12/15/2017

Renee's guest is Rus Funk, a consultant on gender equity, anti-racism, and violence prevention. He serves on the board of the National Center on Sexual and Domestic Violence. Funk talks about the spate of sexual harassment charges that have dominated news headlines and offers advice on helping men learn how to modify their behavior to create a professional and respectful work environment.

  • Tuesday December 27, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 27, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 27, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 27, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 27, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 27, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY

Silas House

Premiered On: 01/12/2018

Novelist, activist, and educator Silas House discusses his book to be released later this year that focuses on parenthood, his work as an advocate for environmental and gender equity causes, and other topics.

  • Wednesday December 28, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday December 28, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday December 28, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday December 28, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
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Dominique Wilkins - S11 E41

  • Friday November 25, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday November 25, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
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  • Friday November 25, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
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UK President Eli Capilouto - S18 E6

  • Thursday November 24, 2022 11:30 pm ET on KET
  • Thursday November 24, 2022 10:30 pm CT on KET
  • Thursday November 24, 2022 11:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Thursday November 24, 2022 10:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Thursday November 24, 2022 10:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday November 24, 2022 9:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday November 24, 2022 6:30 pm ET on KET
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Gary Tuggle - S11 E40

  • Thursday November 24, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday November 24, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday November 24, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday November 24, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday November 24, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday November 24, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Dr. Leana Wen - S11 E39

  • Wednesday November 23, 2022 10:29 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 23, 2022 9:29 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 23, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 23, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 23, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 23, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Terrence Walton - S11 E38

  • Tuesday November 22, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 22, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 22, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 22, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 22, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 22, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack - S11 E37

  • Monday November 21, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday November 21, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday November 21, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday November 21, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday November 21, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday November 21, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Author Emily Bingham - S18 E11

  • Saturday November 26, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday November 26, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday November 20, 2022 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday November 20, 2022 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday November 20, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday November 20, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday November 20, 2022 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday November 20, 2022 11:00 am CT on KET

Kimberly Johnson - S11 E36

  • Friday November 18, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday November 18, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday November 18, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday November 18, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday November 18, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday November 18, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Jason Merrick - S11 E35

  • Thursday November 17, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday November 17, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday November 17, 2022 2:10 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday November 17, 2022 1:10 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday November 17, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday November 17, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Fayette County Veterans Treatment Court - S11 E34

  • Wednesday November 16, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 16, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 16, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 16, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 16, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 16, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Dr. Lynne Saddler - S11 E33

  • Tuesday November 15, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 15, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 15, 2022 2:25 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 15, 2022 1:25 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 15, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 15, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Scott Hesseltine - S11 E32

  • Monday November 14, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday November 14, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday November 14, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday November 14, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday November 14, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday November 14, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Bill Goodman - Kentucky Humanities - S18 E10

  • Sunday November 20, 2022 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday November 20, 2022 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday November 19, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday November 19, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday November 13, 2022 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday November 13, 2022 5:00 pm CT on KET2
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  • Sunday November 13, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday November 13, 2022 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday November 13, 2022 11:00 am CT on KET

Jessie Laine Powell - S11 E31

  • Friday November 11, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday November 11, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Oral Health Care In Kentucky - S11 E30

  • Thursday November 10, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday November 10, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday November 10, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday November 10, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Kishonna Gray - S11 E29

  • Wednesday November 9, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 9, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 9, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 9, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Gretchen Hunt - S11 E28

  • Tuesday November 8, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 8, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 8, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 8, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 8, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 8, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Dr. Erin Frazier - S11 E27

  • Monday November 7, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday November 7, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday November 7, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday November 7, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday November 7, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday November 7, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Restoring American Democracy - S18 E9

  • Friday November 25, 2022 11:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Friday November 25, 2022 10:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Friday November 25, 2022 10:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday November 25, 2022 9:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday November 25, 2022 6:30 pm ET on KET
  • Friday November 25, 2022 5:30 pm CT on KET
  • Sunday November 13, 2022 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday November 13, 2022 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday November 12, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
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  • Sunday November 6, 2022 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday November 6, 2022 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday November 6, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday November 6, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday November 6, 2022 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday November 6, 2022 11:00 am CT on KET

Crystal Wilkinson - S11 E26

  • Friday November 4, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday November 4, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday November 4, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday November 4, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday November 4, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday November 4, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Criminal Justice Reform - Cherise Fanno Burdeen - S13 E34

  • Thursday November 3, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday November 3, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes - S11 E25

  • Thursday November 3, 2022 2:16 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday November 3, 2022 1:16 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday November 3, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday November 3, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention - S11 E24

  • Wednesday November 2, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 2, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 2, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 2, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

A Tribute to Georgia Davis Powers - S11 E18

  • Tuesday November 1, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 1, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 1, 2022 2:18 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 1, 2022 1:18 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 1, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 1, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Andrew Brennen - S11 E17

  • Monday October 31, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday October 31, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday October 31, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday October 31, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday October 31, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday October 31, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Breast Cancer - S18 E8

  • Sunday November 6, 2022 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday November 6, 2022 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday November 5, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday November 5, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday October 30, 2022 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday October 30, 2022 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday October 30, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday October 30, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday October 30, 2022 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday October 30, 2022 11:00 am CT on KET

Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams - S18 E7

  • Sunday October 30, 2022 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday October 30, 2022 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday October 29, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday October 29, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY

Anthony Smith - S11 E16

  • Friday October 28, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday October 28, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday October 28, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday October 28, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday October 28, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday October 28, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Wayne Lewis - S11 E15

  • Thursday October 27, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday October 27, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday October 27, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday October 27, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear - S11 E11

  • Wednesday October 26, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday October 26, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday October 26, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday October 26, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday October 26, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday October 26, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Miss Kentucky Clark Davis - S11 E10

  • Tuesday October 25, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday October 25, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
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