Lisa SalvatiJun 10, 2016, 12:39 pmJun 11, 2016, 7:35 am

Special photo exhibit in the Hudson Valley chronicles Muhammad Ali’s life

Gordon Parks, Life Magazine's first African American staff photographer, captured moments defining Ali's passion and beliefs

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As the world says goodbye to Muhammad Ali — the public can now see a first-ever photo tribute to the boxing and humanitarian icon.

The exhibition, ‘American Champion,’ is at The Gordon Parks Foundation in Pleasantville.

"He was my hero," says Ray Neville of Yonkers.

Neville, a huge Ali fan, is getting a look at the three-time heavyweight champ's personal moments.

This first-ever published photo of Ali driving with friends in Miami is one of several in an exhibition at the foundation.

Neville says he remembers Ali versus Sonny Liston.

"Sonny Liston was…he was just tremendous and Muhammad Ali was a young man and I sat there and I said, can he do this? And he absolutely said he could do it and he did what he said he could do, he beat him,” says Neville. “He looks there like he's totally amazed at the whole world that's opening up to him."

Gordon Parks, a world-renowned photographer, writer and artist, was the first African American staff photographer at Life Magazine.

He photographed Ali in 1966 in Miami and in Hyde Park, England and again in 1970. There are photographs inside the ring, Ali out with friends and people crossing paths with the boxer.

The Gordon Parks Foundation Executive Director Peter Kunhardt Jr. says, "They had this bond with each other. Gordon had access to places where other photographers wouldn't have had access. Whether it was cooks from the kitchen or people that helped clean buildings, Gordon and Ali, they were the people and they were the people's people."

Parks died in 2006.

The foundation had been preparing this exhibit for months, and coincidentally had scheduled the unveiling for Monday — three days after Ali's death.

Another photo of Ali praying with friends after converting to Islam has also never been published before.

"He was absolutely true to his convictions,” says Neville. “He was very deep, emotional, and you can see it, you can see it right there."

‘American Champion’ will be on display at The Gordon Parks Foundation until Sept. 24. Admission is free.

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