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Ali and Social Change

Ali and Social Change

A Virtual Conversation with Filmmaker Sarah Burns, Gerald Early and Nancy Lieberman, Moderated by Martin Dobrow
Wednesday, November 3 at 6:30 p.m. on Zoom

“Ali is rightly celebrated for his athleticism in the ring, but he was equally heroic in his willingness to stand up for what he believed was right.” — Sarah Burns, co-director, Muhammad Ali

Join New England Public Media and Springfield College for a discussion about the legendary athlete who inspired people all over the world with his message of pride and self-affirmation. Our panel includes the film’s co-director Sarah Burns, and professor, essayist and author Gerald Early (who appears in Muhammad Ali). Springfield College professor and sports journalist Martin Dobrow will moderate the event. Springfield College’s Dr. Calvin R. Hill is the event host.

Attendees will have the opportunity to watch a 30-minute clip from the film at 6:30 p.m., followed by the panel discussion at 7 p.m.


Muhammad Ali, which premiered on NEPM TV from September 19 – 22, was directed by acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns, and written and co-directed by Sarah Burns and David McMahon. The series follows the life of one of the most consequential men of the 20th century — a three-time heavyweight boxing champion who captivated billions of fans with his combination of speed, agility and power in the ring, and his charm, wit and outspokenness outside of it. At the height of his fame, Ali challenged Americans’ racial prejudices, religious biases, and notions about what roles celebrities and athletes play in our society.


Sarah Burns served as writer and co-director of Muhammad Ali. She is the author of The Central Park Five: A Chronicle of a City Wilding and, along with David McMahon and Ken Burns, the producer, writer and director of the documentary The Central Park Five, about the five Black and Latino teenagers who were wrongly convicted in the infamous Central Park Jogger rape of 1989. She produced and directed, along with David McMahon and Ken Burns, Jackie Robinson, a biography of the celebrated baseball player and civil rights icon, and East Lake Meadows: A Public Housing Story

Gerald Early

Gerald Early is an American essayist and American culture critic. He is the Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters in the African and African American Studies Department at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. He has consulted on several Ken Burns documentary films, including Baseball, Jazz, The War and Muhammad Ali, and he is a regular commentator on NPR's Fresh Air. He writes on topics as diverse as American literature, the Korean War, African-American culture, Afro-American autobiography, non-fiction prose, sports, jazz, and more.

Dr Calvin Hill

Dr. Calvin R. Hill joined Springfield College in 2015 as the vice president for inclusion and community engagement. Previously, he served as the university diversity and inclusion officer for the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., assistant to the president and director of the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equal Opportunity at Worcester State University, associate provost and chief diversity officer for MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, and assistant dean and director of diversity programs at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Dr. Hill is a consultant on diversity issues and presents nationally on issues of inclusion, where he focuses primarily on providing equal access to educational opportunities for underrepresented populations.

Marty Dobrow

Marty Dobrow has been at Springfield College since 1999, where he also serves as faculty advisor to the student newspaper and coordinates internships for communications/sports journalism students. Dobrow has written frequently about issues of civil rights and social justice. Dobrow is the author of two books, with a third on the way about civil rights. His freelance credits include work for The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, and ESPN.com. Six of his stories have earned recognition in the Best American Sports Writing series.


Ali and Social Change Springfield College NEPM