Before he was named President and CEO of the Muhammad Ali Center in 2012, Donald Lassere had already created a successful career as an executive. But when he came to Louisville, he was taking an opportunity to carry on the message of his boyhood hero.
“I had never met Muhammad Ali, but my father had met him,” says Lassere, 56, who grew up in Chicago and Los Angeles. “Ali was a hero for me as a child growing up. It had little to do with him being a boxer, because I was too young to have seen him fight. The reason he was a hero to me is because people in my community saw him as someone who would stand up for what you believe in, and more importantly, being willing to accept the consequences for your actions.”
Lassere has been instrumental in the success of the Ali Center, both in terms of its financial well-being and spreading the Champ’s message of peace. In January 2017, he helped organize a protest at the Ali Center surrounding the issue of immigration. Lassere emceed the event – supported by Metro Louisville government – that attracted 5,000 people.
“One of the things we try to foster here is a sense of social justice, a sense of oneness,” he says. “What we wanted to demonstrate is that people of all races, religions, and ethnicities can come together in unity on behalf of people whose voices aren’t being heard. The Center wants to foster that throughout the community, the nation, and the world.”
Lassere holds a Bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of San Francisco, an MBA from Harvard, and a law degree from Georgetown University. Since coming to Louisville, he has been instrumental in launching and promoting the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards , which recognize people under 30 who foster Ali’s core principles: Confidence, Conviction, Dedication, Giving, Respect, and Spirituality.
The outpouring from around the world upon Ali’s death in June 2016 put a focus on Lassere and the Ali Center, which saw its attendance jump 10-fold that week. A year after Ali’s passing, the Center launched the six-week “I Am Ali” Festival with events throughout the city celebrating the Champ’s principles.
Lassere, who is married with two young children, seems to have found a home in Louisville.
“I never thought I would have been fortunate enough to have this job,” he says. “I love it. I love the city of Louisville. This position has been amazing.”