Community

The Muhammad Ali Center has named Marilyn Jackson as its new CEO and president.

Jackson will be the first woman to permanently step into the role. Laura Douglas served as the interim president and CEO for eight months following Donald Lassere’s departure.

Jackson comes to Louisville from Chicago, where she served as the United Way of Metro Chicago’s chief strategy and engagement officer. 

She is also the daughter-in-law of civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson.

In a press release, Jackson said, “I am honored and humbled to join the Muhammad Ali Center at such a pivotal time in our country’s social justice journey.”

As CEO and president, Jackson will oversee the day-to-day operations of the organization, as well as guide the center forward in its vision and strategic plan.

A search committee, led by board members Bennie Ivory and Akure Paradis, took eight months to decide on who would permanently fill the role.

The person they were looking for had to meet several criteria.

“Someone who had executive leadership, who knew programming, had experience with donor engagement, programming initiatives and marketing campaigns. Someone who really had a host of skills,” senior director of public relations and internal affairs Jeanie Kahnke said.

She said Jackson, with her past experience and work, fits the bill.

“Marilyn has worked magic at two other iconic cultural centers, and we are confident that she will have the dedication and passion to do the same at the Ali Center,” Ivory said in a press release. 

Muhammad Ali’s wife, Lonnie Ali expressed her support of Jackson stepping into the role. 

“Ms. Jackson has the discipline, institutional knowledge and vision to take the Center to the next level of community and national engagement and leadership,” Ali said in a press release. “She will be a valuable addition to the Muhammad Ali Center and the Louisville community at large.”

Jackson’s vision of her work with the Ali Center starts with a focus on the community, according to officials.

“She’s really looking forward to meeting with different community leaders, really fitting into the community, finding out what our needs are, our assets,” Kahnke said.

Kahnke said Jackson hopes to strengthen the Ali Center’s place as a community space in Louisville.

Jackson will begin at the center on January 17, Muhammad Ali’s 80th birthday and Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Breya Jones is the Breaking News Reporter for WFPL.