From a distance, I could see the car approaching through a sea of cheering spectators. Perched high, as if on top of the world, and waving to the crowd, Beau stood proudly alongside his “brother”, Jacob. This much anticipated day had finally arrived – Beau & Jacob were making their celebrity appearances together at the North Carolina Azalea Festival.
For the past 67 years, our coastal town of Wilmington, NC, has hosted the North Carolina Azalea Festival – a celebration of the history and culture of our region. Each year, the Festival committee extends invitations to a variety of celebrities to come be a part of the celebration. Throughout the years, celebrity guests have included Andy Griffith, Kelly Ripa and even President Ronald Reagan. Each of these past celebrities has shared their unique talents and abilities with our community, but I feel certain that this year’s Festival was truly ground breaking because our community decided to honor Beau – a little boy who continues to prove to the world that a diagnosis does not define a person – as a celebrity. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first time in Festival history that someone with an intellectual disability has been invited to be a celebrity at the Festival, but I can assure you that it won’t be the last.
I am convinced of this because I witnessed first hand countless moments that changed people’s perceptions and won over their hearts.
Moments like the roaring applause Beau received when he was introduced at one of our local elementary schools.
Moments like the steady stream of fans that lined up eager to get Beau’s autograph.
Moments like watching Beau interact with patients at the hospital – bringing much needed joy to a room full of despair.
Moments like the hugs and high fives Beau shared on the dance floor with the boys and girls at the Brigade Club after school program.
And most especially, the moments that happened along a crowded parade route as cheering spectators showed their support and encouragement and in doing so, became part of a revolution of acceptance.