Tallahassee's Farming the Future Founder Wins Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award

Aug 30, 2019

It’s not every day that a Tallahasseean wins an international humanitarian award. Particularly if that Tallahasseean is an enterprising young woman who has yet to see her 30th birthday.

Michele Madison amidst her produce
Credit Michele Madison

From very humble beginnings, Michele Madison single-handedly founded an enterprise called Farming the Future. She’s been teaching agriculture and entrepreneurship to students in the area’s Title One schools and also kids who wind up in the county’s juvenile detention center after scrapes with the law. She’s based an online curriculum on her teachings, which she’s marketing to school districts and individual class rooms. And, although a self admitted college dropout, she was just hired by Tallahassee Community College to head the agriculture department at the Wakulla Environmental Institute. We mention all this by way of explaining the reason she was contacted several months back by someone claiming to represent the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards.

"I actually received a phone call from someone who technically wasn't supposed to tell me I was nominated for this award," she recalled. "They were asking for Michele Madison's co-director or second person down and I immediately responded with, 'Who's this? Who are you asking for? What do you want???'"

The Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards have been presented since 2013 to outstanding worldwide contributors to social justice, peach and human rights. Madison now knew she had been nominated to receive one of 6 additional awards for 2019 honoring young adults age 30 and under who serve as advocates, activists and role models.

"And so I had to start working on gathering documents and letters and getting the numbers of how many students I'd done outreach with and the impact that I've had. It took me about 3 weeks and it was amazing because I got to read the things that the people I work with had to say about me. You never know that because you don't go up to the people who contract you and say, 'Hey, am I doing my job?'"

But after sending in the hefty package of documents, Madison heard nothing.

"It was months and I started thinking I didn't win; that was nice and how sweet and I'm super honored just to be nominated and considered."

That all changed suddenly and unexpectedly.

"I received an email and it said, 'Dear Michele: Congratulations on behalf of the Muhammad Ali Center, we would like to award you a Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award.' I think I blacked out for 30 seconds and then unbelievable joy, I started crying and I immediately called the people and said, 'Yes, oh my God, thank you so much! I can't believe it!'"

Once again, Madison had to cram a boatload of frantic activity into an already packed schedule of daily responsibilities.

"It's been picking out flights, providing bios and pictures and figuring out my itinerary. I can't wait and I still don't know which day I get to have dinner with Muhammad Ali's wife!"

Madison’s departure date for the ceremony is rapidly approaching.

"The awards ceremony will take place in Louisville, Kentucky at the Muhammad Ali Center on September 12th. I get to do all of these really cool things, like getting to see Michael J. Fox who won one of the awards. I'll be flying back on September 13th."

And for this particular class of award winners, Madison is the only American in the bunch, the others hail from countries from all over the world.

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