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Ali joins Juárez aid effort


MAY 8,2000 www

Ali joins Juárez aid effort

Boxing legend wows crowd at gymnasium 

By Robert Seltzer

El Paso Times 

JUAREZ - The boy whupped “the greatest.”

It was the kind of emotional showdown that must hap- pen everywhere Muhammad  Ali goes.  Ali glared at the boy, clenching his fists and biting his lower lip in what ap-peared to be anger.  The boy glared back, short but defiant, his ribs poking through the holes in his dirty T-shirt.  Then, after about 10 seconds, Ali melted, lifting the boy and planting a kiss on his cheek so soft and sweet that it seemed to last forever.  “Es Muhammad Ali,” Luis Carlos Hernandez, 7, yelled. “Es Muhammad Ali. Es el más grande del mundo.”  If Ali is the “greatest in the world,” he no longer has to proclaim it himself; he lets the people do it for him.  Ali, the former three-time heavyweight champion, visited the border town Sunday afternoon, helping to deliver food and clothing to needy families in the Colonia Revolución.

  “I’m only 30 years old, but I remember Ali’s fights from my youth,” said Juan Carlos Hernandez, who took his son, Luis, to see Ali. “He was a great fighter–and a better man. And I wanted my son to see him.”  Ali spent almost two hours at the Kiki Romero Gimnasio, where the food was delivered.  The boxing legend shadowboxed, signed autographs and kissed more children than a department store Santa Claus.He proved that, even without his trunks, tassels and gloves, Ali will always be Ali, his personality as powerful as his fists once were.  “The food will help us so much,” Soledad Gallardo, 25, said. “It means a lot to us to have a great man like him come down and help us.”  About 300 people packed the gym, most of them children who were about knee- high to a spit bucket. Ali retired in 1981, but the youngsters still know of him. They know of the athlete and the humanitarian, and Sunday, they found out about the man whose brashness has been replaced by an impish smile.  “I brought my son,” Gallardo said, cradling her 6-month-old boy, Julio Alberto. “One day, I want him to know that the great Muhammad Ali hugged him and kissed him.” 

 Ali, 58, suffers from parkinsonism, a chronic condition of the nervous system. The sickness forces him to walk slowly and speak haltingly, as if he were considering every word, measuring it for its impact upon the listener. But, no, that is a preposterous notion because Ali never cared what the public thought of his comments — the more controversial, the better.

  “I want to present you with the key to the city,” Mayor Carlos Ramirez told the former champion during a news conference earlier in the day at the Camino Real Hotel in El Paso.

  “Is this the key to the bank?” Ali asked softly.

  The gathering broke out in laughter.

  “He’s a warm person, very caring and humorous,” said Cameron Scott, 42, an El Paso artist, who met Ali that morning. “It’s an exemplary person who retires from his chosen profession and then goes on to even greater work. There aren’t many people like that. Ali is one of them.”

  Ali travels throughout the world to aid humanitarian causes, most of them involving children, said Yank Barry, chairman of the Global Village Market, which helped organize the donations to the needy families in Juárez.  Ali is not getting a penny for this effort,” Barry said at the news conference.  Ali, responding in mock terror, said, “You mean you’re not paying me?”  Despite his medical condition, Ali seemed fit and trim, perhaps only 20 pounds above his prime fighting weight of 215. He shadow- boxed smoothly, almost casually. And his face, always a source of great pride, remains unlined and unmarked, just as it was when he used to refer to himself as “pretty.”  “One of the great things about this job is meeting people you would not otherwise get to meet,” Ramirez said. “And Ali is one of them. He is a legend.”  Ali won his first heavyweight title Feb. 25, 1964, in Miami Beach, Fla., scoring a stunning knockout over Sonny Liston — one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. He eventually became the first three-time heavyweight champion in history. Ali retired after losing a decision to Trevor Berbick in 1981.

  “In fight after fight, he showed that his heart and will were as powerful as his fists,” Jose Carrasco, 43, said at the gymnasium in Juárez. Today, Ali lives on a farm in Berrien Springs, Mich., with his fourth wife, Lonnie. He still punches the heavy bag, and he walks several miles every morning, schedule allowing. The exchampion travels widely, championing humanitarian causes and preaching the religion of Islam, which he embraced more than 30 years ago, when he changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali.  “It’s true that he’s sick, but he doesn’t have an ounce of self-pity in him,” Scott said. “Most people would, but he doesn’t. .He told me why he devotes so much energy to these causes. He said every child he helps provides him with another key to heaven.”

  Ali arrived in a private jet at the El Paso International Airport around 10 a.m. He stopped briefly at the Camino Real Hotel. Then he rode a trolley to Juárez, where he kissed hundreds of children and threw dozens of punches at the air. “Ali, Ali,” the children yelled as he boarded a limousine back to the airport.

Tired and hot, Ali wiped his face with a handkerchief. Then, settling into the back seat of the vehicle, the ex-champion threw one final combination at the air. The youngsters screamed. 

• ‘Sister Suzie’ dedicated 37 years to feeding poor

‘Greatest’turns talents to helping border poor

By Diana Washington Valdez

El Paso Times 

  Legendary boxer Muhammad Ali helped pave the way for a new mega-relief project in Juárez that began Sunday with a truckload of food and other gifts for needy families.  The retired heavyweight champion, who was known for his brash style, showed people along the border why many today still call him “the greatest.” Ali, “the philanthropist,” was introduced after his arrival at a news conference at the Camino Real Hotel, where El Paso Mayor Carlos Ramirez presented him the key to the city.  After that, Ali hopped a trolley bound for Juárez with Suzie Valadez, an El Paso missionary with Hands— of Love and Hope/Christ for Mexico. She regularly feeds about 3,000 needy people in the Juárez dump area, where many scavenge for food and other items. The party included a Ryder rental truck loaded with 2 tons of a special food product and toys. More food and more “champions” will be coming to the border as a result of Ali’s involvement, said Yank Barry, chairman of the Global Village Market, based in Montreal.  Barry formerly toured with the Kingsmen, a group famous for the hit song “Louie, Louie.” He founded a company called VitaPro, which makes a food product designed especially to feed the hungry.  The food donated to feed the Juárez families is rich in 
nutrients, comes in chicken and beef flavors, and can be stored vithout refrigeration.  Charities and other groups that tiy to take donated goods into Mexico sometimes run into problems clearing Mexican Customs. However, with Ali on board, the truck and other vehicles were waved through Sunday afternoon and did not have to stop for inspection.  The group then proceeded to the Kiki Romero Gimnasio in south Juárez. At the gym, Ali’s team passed out bags with the food product that Global Village markets had donated, along with free toys and T-shirts.  Ali delighted the crowd of more than 300 by doing a magic trick, throwing occasional jabs at the air and pretending to spar with Juárez Mayor Gustavo Elizondo.  “Your boxing days may be over, but you are still a fighter, one who fights for noble causes,” Elizondo told Ali.  Ali kissed and hugged children, signed autographs and posed for pictures with anyone who asked. Juárez resident Eduardo Velasquez said he rode to the gym on a bicycle with his 6-year-old son, Ever.  “I didn’t really believe that Ali would be here after I heard it on TV, but I brought my son anyway,” Velasquez said. “And look, there he is. Everyone knows him, from movies, the news, his boxing career.”  Ali founded Global Village Champions, an organizationmade up mostly of athletes and musicians who promote humanitarian good will. It works with Global Village Market, a company with annual revenues of $350 million, which has carried out humanitarian projects around the world, including Africa’s Ivory Coast, Russia and Bosnia. Recently, the organization agreed to assist Hands of Love and Hope/Christ for Mexico, a mission run by Suzie Valadez.  Valadez, who’s been feeding needy children in Juárez for 37 years, said, “Ali’s Visit was a blessing.”  Barry said that “within the next six months, we plan to set up an infirmary and build dorms for the (Juárez) children.” He also said a priority will be to get drinking water to the dump area on a regular basis.  As part of the effort, El Paso’s Sierra Springs donated, bottled water for the next four months for the children in the Juárez dump neighborhood of Colonia Morelos.  Eliezer Ben-Joseph, a naturopath who operates Herbs for Health at 7040 N. Mesa and who‘ has a radio program on natural ‘ health products, was instrumental in introducing Valadez’s work to the Global Village organization.

  He said celebrities like Ali usually command $500,000 for promotional appearances.  Ali, who has parkinsonism, made only a few brief comments. The disease affects his nervous system and forces him to walk-slowly and speak haltingly.  The stop at the Juárez gym took longer than planned, and Ali was unable to travel on to the south Juárez dump because he had to catch a plane back to Michigan. At 3:15 p.m., he was whisked away from the gym in a limousine and escorted by Juárez police on motorcycles.

  Eboni Washington, 21, president of UTEP’s Black Student Coalition, and coalition member William Muhammad, met Ali at the Camino Real press conference.

 “We wanted to offer him our help with the project,” Washington said.  Major contributors included the Institute for Global Prosperity and the International Free Enterprise Association. Other contributors were the El Paso-Juárez Trolley Co., which donated Sunday’s trolley service. Other events will follow soon, including an artists’ exhibit, said Cameron Scott, an artist at the .press conference who said he plans to donate a painting of Ali to help raise money for the project.  Barry, Ben-Joseph and Valadez said many more volunteers are needed to help carry out the relief efforts. Over the years, the dump was settled by families who migrated to Juárez from the interior of Mexico to seek better opportunities. Many of them couldn’t get jobs at maquiladoras or other places because they didn’t possess documents to establish identities and education. Countless survived by scavenging the garbage for food and trash for clothing and house materials. Some fashioned their homes from lumber scraps, sticks and cardboard. Project leaders said families in the Colonia Morelos often can’t afford to pay the $1 a week required to send their children to school. 

For more information: Global Village Web site, 

‘Sister Suzie’ has spent 37 years feeding poor 

By Diana Washington Valdez

El Paso Times 

Suzie Valadez has been called “queen of the dump” because she has worked for nearly 40 years to feed the poorest people of Juárez.  Although she was ordained in 1983, friends know her best as “Hermana Suzie” or “Sister Suzie’ She runs the Hands of Love and Hope/Christ for Mexico mission, which also operates four churches in south Juárez. The Christian mission is not allied with any church and relies on donations from individuals and groups.  In 1963, Valadez was a mother of four in San Jose, Calif. At that time, she saw what her pastor said was a “vision.” She saw children standing in line with a banner that said “Ciudad Juárez.”  She had no idea where Juárez was, but her pastor told her she was called to feed the poor. She moved with her chihdren to El Paso, where they struggled to make their own ends meet while starting the mission work.  She called on businesses for donations of food and clothing, and she asked anyone who was willing to help with distributing the goods.  Valadez said what she has done has been simply to obey God’s calling on her life. With the involvement of Muhammad Ali’s Global Village Champions, the mission work she founded will take on a whole new scale.

Eliezer Ben-Joseph, an El Paso naturopath, said he met Valadez two years ago when she asked him to donate to the mission.  “I couldn’t believe there were children and families living in a dump right across from (El Paso),” he said. “I was appalled at their conditions.”  Eventually, one thing led to another, and Ben-Joseph introduced her to the Global Village consortium.  “They flew her to Cancun for one of their offshore conferences ... and they decided to take (her mission) on,” he said.  On Sunday, the Juárez mayor presented Valadez a framed certificate in recognition of her work. Although grateful for the high-profile attention the mission received, she preferred to focus on the needs of still others. “I’m starting a fifth church soon in Juárez, she said. “Next Sunday for Mother’s Day, I’m hoping that volunteers will help us in distributing the gifts we will have for the mothers.”

  Hands of Love and Hope/Christ for Mexico can be reached at 915-598-0701.  

Former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali and missionary Suzie Valadez shared a moment Sunday before traveling to a gymnasium in Juárez to pass out toys and food to colonia residents. Many other volunteers assisted the two. 

Ruben R. Ramirez / El Paso Times

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