What I have learned from Mrs. Eunice Kennedy Shriver

In preparation for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award on July 12th and the seventh global Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day on July 20th to be celebrated around the world, bringing together people with and without intellectual disabilities to honor the inspiration, impact and indomitable spirit of our Special Olympics founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, I want to publicly thank the mother of Special Olympics for all that she gave me and many others like me.

The founder of Special Olympics has played a great role in my life and changed my world. Her spirit has guided me throughout my journey from childhood to adulthood. I met Mrs. Shriver several times especially in the summer when I was invited to her home in Maryland to play in her backyard with members of Special Olympics International Board of Directors who would meet in her home and interact with us the athletes in various sports. I also saw her often on Hill Day when she was always there encouraging us the athletes, coaches, staff and parents to advocate for our rights and to change the hearts and minds of many.

Special Olympics has changed my life and it was Mrs. Shriver who was the genius behind it all. She was the visionary to seek sports as a catalyst to transform the lives of those with and without disabilities. She saw sports at the service of humanity, building teams that would tear down barriers.

Since a young age, my dream is a dream of advocacy, following in her vision. She asked heads of states, legislators, influential people, athletes and fans to promote inclusion and dignity in our world. Her words and call for justice resonate in my heart each time I give a speech and quote her powerful message that still needs to be implemented all over the world: ‘’The right to play in any playing field, you have earned it; The right to have a job, you have earned it; The right to be anyone’s neighbor, you have earned it.” She was the one who believed in us the athletes. She is the one who fought for our human and civil rights. She fought for compassion, acceptance, and justice.

I learned from her that I have rights, I have a place in this world, I belong in our community and I am fully integrated at all levels of our society, in my family, in education, sports, employment, and social activities from early childhood to adulthood. It is an honor and a privilege to be associated with a hero who never gave up on the most vulnerable, the forgotten and those whom society ignored for many years. She saw me as a valuable person who has a contribution to make.

She fought for her sister Rosemary and she fought for each one of us athletes, for each family who has a child with an intellectual and or developmental disability. She was tireless, she saw “possibilities and abilities”. She spoke to leaders, political figures, celebrities and anyone who would follow her lead in improving the lives of those among us who did not fit the typical model, whom are different and misunderstood.

I am also very proud to be a Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger and especially a Joesph P. Kennedy Jr. Public Policy fellow pursuing Mrs. Shriver’s dream where I learned to serve rather than to be served. The Foundation that she led for many years has two major objectives: One is to seek the prevention of intellectual disability by identifying its causes, and the second is to improve the means by which society deals with citizens who have intellectual disabilities working with the Legislative branch of government. Mrs. Shriver made a significant impact on the National Institute of Health and Public Policy just to name key major outcomes of her leadership at the foundation.

Thank you Mrs. Shriver for opening doors and leading the way with your courage against all odds. I am sure that you are looking at the progress that your family especially your son Tim Shriver and all of us at Special Olympics in extending your vision in the United States and across the Globe.

Heartfelt thanks.