Q&A with May May Ali on Parkinson's awareness
People are inspired to make a difference all the time. For Maryum "May May" Ali, daughter of boxer Muhammad Ali, there was no other option. Her father has Parkinson's disease, and she has been an activist for the cause for 12 years.
As the celebrity face of the Parkinson's Unity Walk (unitywalk.org), Ali tours the country to speak out about the disease, and participates in the annual walk, which takes place in Central Park. It raised $1.7 million this year for Parkinson's disease research. When Ali was in New York City this spring, she took some time to speak with amNewYork.
Why is this an important cause for you?
Oh, my goodness, it's important to me because my father has Parkinson's and we've experienced what this disease does. ... Everybody with Parkinson's has it differently. Like Michael J. Fox, you can hear him speak clearly. With my father, you can't. ... I saw how important it was for my father to understand his disease. ... There were rough times when we weren't sure of what was going on with him and the unity walk is a mecca of all information that is needed. It's a buffet of resources in addition to raising money for important research.
Why did you become the face of this movement?
I was born with the last name Ali; that's just what happened. [And] if you can't use that to help people, then I mean I come from the school of thought that helping and paying it forward is just what you need to do. Sue Jones might not be able to get an interview, or a national television show, because they might not know who Sue Jones is, but if you're interviewing me because I'm Muhammad Ali's daughter, I can draw people to the website to donate, to get more information.
When did you realize you wanted to get involved?
I met Kim Seidman, who introduced me to the folks at Team Parkinson's, which is a nonprofit. They raise money for Parkinson's, [and] are the official charity of the LA Marathon, which is under the umbrella of the Parkinson's Alliance. ... It was the first time I had met people who have gone through what I went through. ... Like, 'Wow, you guys have been through this, too.' It was a community, you know, and you learn so much, so it was just a natural progression of, 'You understand this; oh great, my father's been going through this.' It was just natural, it wasn't like I was waiting to do something or not, I just had to meet the right people.
The Unity Walk also provides information to people. Why is that an important component?
... If people don't get out and educate themselves and talk to other people and get involved and be proactive, they'll never know. There have been specific instances with my father, where he would have a problem with his gait, with his walking, and we didn't know what to do, and he wouldn't be moving or he would be moving slowly, and we were nervous, we were scared. There is a lot of anxiety when we would go out, and then we found out all these different things we can do, like tapping on the foot, or using a laser, or saying certain things or certain exercises he can do to help that. I mean, all these little tips and tricks of the trade that you can do. ... But how are you supposed to know all this if you don't surround yourself with the information? ... So I think that's the biggest message -- get the information. If someone can't be at the Unity Walk, the website is just unbelievable. ... It's all about connecting.
So this is about raising awareness, too?
It's about raising awareness, it's about connecting people with support, it's about empowering people so they can control their lives and improve their quality of life, and it's about raising money to keep moving forward.
What was it like for your family when your father needed help?
He stayed positive, but the hard part was he didn't understand what he had. ... He didn't want people feeling sorry for him. ... I'll never forget -- we were in Vegas at a hotel lobby and it was crowded ... and this guy goes, 'Look at Ali, he's so messed up.' I heard it, I know my dad heard it ... so I walked over to him and I was like, 'My father has Parkinson's' ... I addressed it, because I was a little upset, and he hated that! ... He had to deal with a whole different image he had. [He] wasn't Superman anymore. ... I think a turning point was the 1996 Olympics. When he lit the torch, it's like his whole personality changed. ... He was positive. He was Muhammad Ali up until he couldn't be anymore. ... He's a boxer and something happened, and that's the way it is.