Student gardeners throng Muhammad Ali in hometown

Muhammad Ali hugged children and posed for photos Tuesday during

an appearance to promote a charitable initiative to grow vegetable

gardens at schools around the world.

Students at John F. Kennedy Montessori Elementary School in

Ali’s hometown helped plant, nurture and harvest vegetables

representing popular cuisine around the world. Some of the

vegetables were served up at school on Tuesday, and others are

being donated to a local food bank.

The school’s project is serving as the prototype for a series of

”Muhammad Ali Center Peace Gardens,” which will aim to teach

children about nutrition and respect for different cultures.

About 600 children, preschoolers to fifth graders, filled the

floor of the Louisville school’s gym to cheer Ali, whose well-known

battle with Parkinson’s disease has left him mostly silent at his

infrequent public appearances. He was seated for the nearly

hourlong event and beamed when a child came on stage to talk about

the project.

His wife, Lonnie Ali, made a point about the importance of

accepting other cultures when she asked children to stand and

discuss their heritage. Children shyly said their families were

from such places as Bosnia, Russia, China, Nepal, Vietnam, Mexico,

Cuba and India.

Lonnie Ali told the children that learning about different

cultures is important as the world becomes more closely connected

through the Internet and other technology.

”Just because somebody is different and they come from

somewhere else doesn’t make them bad,” she said.

Later, Muhammad Ali posed for photos under a tree on the school

grounds. He hugged children, and one small boy playfully put his

fist next to the chin of the former heavyweight champion.

Yum Brands Foundation, the charitable arm of fast-food company

Yum Brands Inc., will provide $100,000 in grants during the next

four years to fund gardens at schools around the world.