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Marilyn Jackson of United Way of Metro Chicago named CEO of Muhammad Ali Center

She is the first woman to lead the center, which focuses on the life and legacy of boxing champ and activist Muhammad Ali.

Marilyn Jackson currently serves as the Chief Strategy and Engagement Officer for United Way of Metro Chicago. The center is in Louisville, Ky.
Marilyn Jackson is leaving United Way of Metro Chicago to become CEO of the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky.
Muhammad Ali Center

Marilyn Jackson, an executive with United Way of Greater Chicago, has been picked to be CEO of the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

Jackson, 57, the chief strategy and engagement officer at United Way of Metro Chicago, will be the center’s first female chief executive. She will take over in January.

The Muhammad Ali Center primarily serves as a museum about the life of the late boxing champion and activist and hosts community programming geared at advancing the ideals of an equitable society.

In her new role, Jackson said she will focus on updating the center’s digital presence, expanding engagement with the Louisville community and increasing fundraising.

“It’s someone’s legacy that I am being entrusted to steer, and that’s a lot of responsibility,” Jackson told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Especially someone’s legacy who has meant so much to Black people in this country, who’s meant so much to this country as a whole, and has an international profile as well. ... He is a hero.”

The center’s previous CEO, Donald Lassere, was named president of the Chicago History Museum in February.

The Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Ky. where Jackson will take over as CEO. The interior of the museum.
The Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

“I’m excited,” Jackson said. “I’m looking forward to meeting new people and getting to know a new town. There’s a lot of great things about Louisville.”

Jackson is married to Jonathan Jackson and is the daughter-in-law of the Rev. Jesse Jackson. She said the new position came together quickly and Jonathan is still exploring what the Kentucky move means for him and his career.

Before the United Way, Jackson held roles at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, the Museum of Science and Industry and the University of Chicago. She said the new position will be the capstone of her career.

“I’m really honored and humbled for this opportunity,” Jackson said. “It’s really through all the experiences I’ve had, and all the wonderful people I’ve worked with in Chicago, that’s really prepared me to take this on.”