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Laila Ali joins mentoring campaign on her late father’s birthday

January marks National Mentorship Month and today is International Mentorship Day

When Laila Ali got a phone call from the organization MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership to launch a video for the third installment of their Mentoring Flipped Campaign, the boxing champion and daughter of the late Muhammad Ali jumped at the chance.

“When they reached out to me about doing this video, of course I had to do it,” Ali said of her decision to partner with the agency. “I think that taking people who are relevant, different athletes and things like that, and putting them in the video with kids is just a cute idea.”

In Laila Ali’s video, she appears to be a bit discouraged. An 11-year-old girl serves as her “mentor” and encourages her to follow her dreams, using quotes from Muhammad Ali.

January is National Mentoring Month and Tuesday marks the second International Mentoring Day, a joint partnership with MENTOR and the Muhammad Ali Center. It’s also the day the nation celebrates the birthday of the late and great Muhammad Ali.

“The month of January is National Mentoring Month. [Tuesday] being Jan. 17th, it happens to also be my father’s birthday, which I thought was the perfect time to launch this year’s campaign around mentoring,” Ali said. “Mentoring.org, and in real life is a public awareness campaign around the need for mentoring and getting adults involved in becoming mentors because one in three children don’t have access to a mentor growing up.”

There are more than 9 million children around the world in need of a mentor. That number increases each year. According to its website, MENTOR is the unifying champion for expanding quality youth mentoring relationships in the United States. For more than 25 years “the organization has served the mentoring field by providing a public voice; developing and delivering resources to mentoring programs nationwide; and promoting quality for mentoring through evidence-based standards, innovative research and essential tools.”

The organization’s mission is to “fuel the quantity and quality of mentoring relationships for America’s young people and to close the mentoring gap.”

Ali said it was just a great idea all along.

“My father was all about uplifting people. I think this is the same core value that this campaign brings.”

The organization’s mission coincides perfectly with Ali’s personal mission.

“It’s a very natural fit for me to get involved,” she said. “I always try to be a positive role model on just the decisions that I make along the way, as far as being a public person, because I know that children are watching me, even if I don’t know them or I’m not actually mentoring them. I’m a public person. They follow you, and they need positive role models, just like my father was such a great role model to so many other people. Anyone who’s in the public light. I also have relationships with people in my life that I mentor, children and adults, and just helping them be confident and be strong. Keep their faith and find their way in this world that we live in.”

Ali said she loves the mission of the organization because she has an appreciation for mentoring and she loves that they are a group of people who care enough to spend the time, money, and resources it takes to put a campaign together.

“What I love is that they’re going to capture the audience and their attention with these videos, and then at the end of the video, they’re going to be telling people please get involved by going to mentoring.org.”

Through MENTOR, opportunities can be found locally and the organization provides a mentoring connector that matches mentors with a variety of opportunities. They maintain the Mentoring Connector, the only national database of youth mentoring programs connecting volunteers to opportunities in their local communities.

“Just trying to explain to people that mentoring doesn’t mean that you have to be like my father, the world’s greatest. Doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of time, but it’s just to be able to touch someone’s life for the better. That’s what we’re supposed to do as human beings.”

The call to action by the organization is a step toward filling the mentoring void and increasing the number of mentorships that are created, while moving the mentoring idea forward.

“It’s just that we need even more people to do mentoring because it just makes a difference in so many kids’ lives. So many people are lost these days. Don’t have any values, morals, anything goes. They don’t really have anything to answer to because they don’t have faith. They don’t have a relationship with God. They don’t understand that we’re all a part of something much bigger than ourselves. That’s why it’s important for people to have those that they can go to that can help them get through the tough times.

“You see a lot more kids even nowadays committing suicide. Just going down the wrong path. I think that if we can get people while they’re young, they can have a better outcome in life. I’m hoping that it doesn’t trail off. I think that we just always have to promote. Just like we promote a lot of the negative things, we’ve got to promote the positive things that are going on in the world, that need to happen in the world.”

Ali admitted that she never had a mentor growing up, but she looked up to her father, who made a big impact on her life.

“Watching him lead by example, both of my parents. Just having compassion and kindness for others is something that’s missing in a lot of people now. That makes such a big difference because we wouldn’t be having all the trouble that we have in our world with different races fighting one another, different countries fighting one another. If people would just have compassion and be able to get along, that alone would make a big difference.”

Ali said she’s received some good advice over the years that she said will last her until the end of time and she’s always using that advice to encourage others.

“I’m always encouraging my friends, my family, and people that I would consider myself a mentor to have confidence in themselves. Believe in themselves. Always remember that this too shall pass. A lot of times people are going through something that just seems like too much. Or it seems like they’re just not going to be able to overcome it. I always remind them of another time that they felt that way. Now it’s in the past, it’s behind you. What I try to do is I try to look to the future. I like to see the victory. I like to see my accomplishment, and I envision it. Then I just move towards it and know that it’s going to happen.”

As a mother and a wife, Ali stresses the importance of encouraging families to get involved in mentoring on the giving and the receiving side.

“You got to have an open heart and an open mind because sometimes you might have a family member who just needs someone to care, someone to listen. Sometimes it’s as simple as that. Just being there to listen. To show someone some love, especially when it comes to kids. All they want is to be loved. They didn’t ask to be here. They want to know they’re loved and supported. I think that you just have to first look around you. Look at your own family members and see who’s calling out. Who you might need to offer some help to. Then again, if you want to actually really get involved in mentoring, then you can go to mentoring.org and find some kids to hook up with and mentor.”

Tuesday, on her father’s birthday, Ali encourages everyone to do something nice for someone else.

“Think about others around you other than just yourself, what’s going on in your life. What your problems are. Even if it’s something as simple as to go get a cup of coffee, get a cup for another employee. Somebody that’s not necessarily your friend. If you did something that you feel bad about deep down inside and you want to make amends with someone, call them and apologize. Or just call somebody that you haven’t talked to in a long time. Something simple as that, you doing something positive, sending a positive vibe out to the world. That will be a good start.”

Besides the new mentoring campaign, Ali launched a podcast, Laila Ali Lifestyle. On her journey to holistic greatness, balancing mind, body and soul, the undefeated boxing champion turned wellness and fitness expert combines her passion for helping others achieve their personal best life.

The podcast site notes “Laila believes that facing life’s challenges takes confidence … and confidence comes from preparation. Laila will prepare you for victory by sharing insight and knowledge on fitness, holistic wellness, cooking, relationships, parenting and so much more.”

MENTOR also has a partnership with the NBA/WNBA for the Mentoring Flipped campaign. Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas and Chicago Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler have participated in the campaign with similar videos.

“One of the amazing parts of this campaign is that we have detailed analytics by ZIP code and date for exactly how many new mentor searches and sign-ups occur. The week of Isaiah Thomas’ video alone saw over 3,000 new mentor searches and a 45 percent increase of national searches originating in Massachusetts,” said senior director of external affairs for MENTOR Matt G. Meyersohn.

Kelley Evans is a digital producer at Andscape. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic Southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.