Saturday, September 24, 2011

Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day

"My mother was a warrior...Her weapons of choice were compassion, an enormous heart, a sharp intellect and a competitive spirit. She used her full arsenal of talents to fight for those who were not viewed by society to be capable, to be fully human, to be deserving of the opportunity to play, to compete, and to contribute to their community worldwide."
-- Maria Shriver on her mother, Eunice, for the Huffington Post

It is no coincidence that Eunice Kennedy Shriver is one of the seven individuals I have spotlighted on my blog masthead. Her life will remain an inspiration to thousands of individuals for decades to come and has been an inspiration to me for most of my own life. It is only fitting that a woman who gave so much to her family, her community, her country and eventually the entire world would be celebrated today. Today is Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day.

To gain an understanding of who Eunice Kennedy Shriver was, it is impossible to simply say she was the founder of Special Olympics and leave it at that. She was that and so much more. Many would say she was the sister of Jack, Bobby and Teddy. She was that and so much more. She was also the wife of Sarge Shriver, but yet so much more. Eunice Kennedy Shriver was and will always be the person who truly opened our eyes to the kindness, joy and capability of an entire minority of Americans--the disabled.

Eunice, like me and millions of Americans, had a family member who was disabled. I often wonder if Rosemary, Eunice's sister, knew what her life inspired. The Kennedy family became leading advocates of the disabled and introduced this nation to the joy they can bring to our lives. The Kennedy family, led by the advocacy of Eunice, taught acceptance and ability. To this day the children of Eunice, through her beloved Special Olympics and numerous other organizations, are leading the charge for acceptance and inclusion.

Could Eunice have helped her brothers' campaigns and left it at that? Of course, but not Eunice. Could Eunice have helped her husband push the Peace Corps toward a future mark of 200,000 Americans serving in 139 countries? Of course, but not Eunice. In 1968 she created the Special Olympics and was intricate to its success, leading it to eventual international status with more than 3 million athletes in nearly 180 countries. What is truly impressive about the Kennedy family is, and always has been, that they have never been content with simply running for and holding office.

There are few Americans born after 1968 who have any interest at all in the Kennedy family or truly grasp the legacy of the Kennedy brothers. Americans born after 1980 have no memory of a Kennedy brother running for president. Few Americans my age and younger know anything about the Kennedy sisters. Many Americans do not even know or could name the generation of Kennedys that includes a congressman who just left office (Patrick Kennedy), California's former first lady (Maria Shriver, who has an impressive list of causes she supports as well), a city councilman (Bobby Shriver) or a former gubernatorial candidate and Lieutenant Governor (Kathleen Kennedy Townsend) and those are the Kennedys on the front lines of public service.

There are Kennedys who run amazing non-profits and distinguished organizations as well (Jean Kennedy Smith, Very Special Arts; Caroline Kennedy, John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; Timothy Shriver, now at the helm of Special Olympics International; Anthony Shriver, Best Buddies International; Mark Shriver, Save the Children; Kerry Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy Foundation & Amnesty International Leadership Council; Joe Kennedy, Citizens Energy; Max Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy Memorial; Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Natural Resources Defense Council; William Kennedy Smith, Physicians Against Land Mines; and the late Kara Kennedy, VSA & National Advisory Board of the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome). Their service and advocacy knows no bounds.

We would all be better people if we, like the Kennedy/Shriver children, sought to be like Eunice and were constantly in the volunteer mindset.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver was fearless, kind, and unbelievably caring. As was referenced in a video in her honor on this day, she was a revolutionary. As her daughter Maria recently wrote, she was a warrior. And, is evidenced by the tens of thousands of people in more than 100 countries who celebrated the second annual Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day today through all types of service, she was an extraordinary woman who set out to blaze a trail and ended up changing perceptions the world over. It will be another lifetime before another comes along as inspiring as Eunice and she will be missed for lifetimes to come.

For more on Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day
For more on Camp Shriver
For more on the End the Word campaign

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