The air was electric. Standing shoulder to shoulder in a packed auditorium, my voice joined the chorus of cheering fans. With fists pumping high in the air, a new generation of leaders was being born – a generation that collectively refuses to accept the status quo and is prepared to lead a charge – a charge to create a world that embraces what makes each of us unique and in doing so realizes the possibilities when we pledge to live unified.
As I scanned the crowd of faces, I couldn’t help but become fixated on one young woman in particular – and not because it was my daughter, Lillie. Sandwiched in between her peers with different abilities, Lillie had a peace about her that I’ve become accustomed to seeing. It’s the kind of peace that overwhelms, overcomes and overflows when human kind is in perfect harmony. And no one could deny our packed auditorium was in perfect harmony – after all, this was Best Buddies.
In the hours and days that followed our Best Buddies Leadership Conference opening ceremony, we were instructed, encouraged and inspired by individuals that exemplify Best Buddies’ mission – to establish a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Throughout the weekend, people with different abilities were not only included, they were celebrated. From the unified basketball game, to the closing ceremony, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities were the centerpiece of our conference. Perhaps my favorite moment of the conference took place at the Closing Ceremonies. This is where I witnessed several Buddy Ambassadors find their voice, stand behind a podium and deliver a personally written speech to an audience of several thousand people. I think the young man sitting next to me, who happened to have Down syndrome, summed up the evening best when he said “This is my heaven.”
Looking forward to growing with the Best Buddies family as our daughter, Lillie, establishes the first Best Buddies high school chapter in the state of NC.