Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Architects of Change at Special Olympics

Be an Architect of Change. The theme of the conference my sister Maria organized this week in Long Beach, which served as a call to action for women all over the world to realize that they have the power to make a difference. They don't need to wait for anything (especially not a man!) to make changes in the world.

I couldn't help but think of how powerful this same theme is for Special Olympics. Our entire movement--over 4 million athletes and volunteers all over the world--is based on that simple message: you can make a difference. Welcome others. Give. Play. Unify.

It’s no surprise that many conference participants were also great supporters of Special Olympics. Susan Saint James, Anne Sweeney, Rafer Johnson, Phil Knight, Dr. Jill Biden, Martha Beck, Dr. Mehmet Oz—they’re all on our team. And they were there challenging the world to listen to Maria and to each other--as a massive team of positive energy shouting "whatever it is, go for it!"

I was particularly touched when Martha Beck told me how amazing Special Olympics is in her eyes--a tribute to the power of sport to awaken people to the presence of a positive energy and a trusting community. And then to hear Deepak Chopra and Nicholas Kristof (men who get it!) both echo the message of social and emotional learning and Project Unify: the way to change the destructive patterns of fear and coercion and stigma is through education--engaging young people in values that are open, centered on human dignity, focused on equality.

Those are messages for all of us. The highlight was of course, Maria. She spoke for all of us in reminding us to recognize that it’s time--time to follow our life's calling.

What a joy to be working with so many people in education and sports who are pursuing such wonderful callings as real and powerful Architects of Change.

Friday, October 8, 2010

President Obama Signs Rosa's Law!

Today, I attended a reception at the White House with Special Olympics athletes to celebrate the enactment of Rosa’s Law. The bill’s passage is a huge victory for everyone, not just people with intellectual disabilities, as it acknowledges the power of words to separate, alienate, and ultimately dehumanize people when they are categorized as ‘other.’ While we still have so far to go in eliminating the use of the r-word in society and in showing others the extent to which demeaning language can hurt, we celebrate this tremendous milestone.

While some might scoff at this change as mere political correctness, I wish you could have been at the reception with these Special Olympics athletes and have heard their many stories of pain and isolation that resulted from the use of demeaning language. Although you couldn’t be there today to hear it from the athletes themselves, so many others have articulated the hurt and isolation they have experienced, including Special Olympics Global Messenger Frank Stephens:

"So, what's wrong with "retard"? I can only tell you what it means to me and people like me when we hear it. It means that the rest of you are excluding us from your group. We are something that is not like you and something that none of you would ever want to be. We are something outside the "in" group. We are someone that is not your kind."

Today is one victory in an ongoing battle and we ask you to join us March 2, 2011 to Spread the Word to End the Word.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Project Unify Colorado Leads the Way in Transforming School and Community Climate

During my trip to Colorado last weekend, I had the opportunity to meet with the Special Olympics Colorado Youth Activation Committee. These young leaders shared wonderful insights with me on the importance of creating school and community environments that are characterized by authentic acceptance and inclusion. I hope you will enjoy this slide show and I hope it will encourage you to continue to enact change in your own schools and communities!

The Sie Foundation: Eliminating Health Disparities for People With Down Syndrome

Last weekend, I was thrilled to be honored by the Global Down Syndrome Foundation at their annual gala in Denver, Colorado. The Global Down Syndrome Foundation is a fantastic organization, founded by Anna and John Sie and family, that supports the Linda Cynic Institute for Down Syndrome at the University of Colorado, which is dedicated to leading research, education and clinical care for people with Down syndrome.

The event was spearheaded by Michelle Sie, the dynamic and visionary Executive Director of the Foundation. Michelle is an incredible advocate for her daughter Sophia, who has Down syndrome, and the millions of others with Down syndrome around the world that their research benefits. Over 1,200 people turned out for a spectacular event -- Jamie Foxx and his sister Diondra Dixon (who has Down syndrome) stole the show, as did Quincy Jones, who presented me with an award in recognition of our work at Special Olympics.

I wasn’t worthy of either receiving the award (the credit belongs to our staff, athletes, volunteers, sponsors and countless others who make our movement happen) or having it be presented by a living legend like Quincy, who has been a pioneer not only in music but also in his support of people with intellectual disabilities!! Here’s a clip of some of the event footage…