In My Own Words:
It’s been wonderful to be an athlete that’s African American with an intellectual disability, to be able to play sports and to do things that we haven’t done and accomplish within Special Olympics. We’ve seen our mentors in the Olympics do these things, but people with intellectual disabilities have a place also. My hero used to be FloJo (Florence Delorez Griffith Joyner), she was an African American track star, she was in the Olympics.
Being an African American, to have that platform for me, I’ve seen these athletes on television, but now I have a platform for me. I ran track in middle school and high school, and I found Special Olympics after high school. I started by playing basketball. My heart and passion were in track and field. I got to go to Tennessee for an event and that’s where I met FloJo. I got to meet my hero and it changed my life.
Being an African American, to have a space within Special Olympics, like the mission says, we get to share our skills and abilities. My dream, as a little girl, was to see the world. I knew there was more than Winston-Salem, I knew there was more than North Carolina. I never imagined being able to do that. Through Special Olympics, I have done that. It gave me the opportunity to also meet our founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver. She inspired me to do more and to be more.
If I ever wrote a book, it would be called “A Force to be Reckoned With.” All that I have done in Special Olympics is a part of my story, a part of my life and a part of my journey. I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have Special Olympics. I thank Special Olympics. When you are African American and have an intellectual disability, people always tell you what you can’t do, what you are not able to do. I can do it. I’ll show you what I’m able to do. I am honored to have a platform to show my gifts, my talents and my skills.
There’s all types of ethnicities and it’s all types of backgrounds, but for me being who I am, me being an African American with an intellectual disability, I’m special. I have a lot more to do, not just for Black History Month, but for the whole year. Black History Month is just a highlight of these achievements. My world is much bigger and much better because of Special Olympics and because I am African American. Believe me, I am a force to be reckoned with.
— Jennifer Wardlow
Jennifer Wardlow is just one many Black and African American leaders in the Special Olympics movement.
To celebrate Black History Month, meet a few more of the people who make the inclusion movement a reality here in North Carolina:
In June 2022, Raymond Henderson served as head coach for the Special Olympics Pitt County basketball team, which represented Team SONC at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, Florida. The team won a silver medal in their division. Henderson also facilitated the fundraising of over $25,000 for the team to attend the USA Games. His dedication to his team and Special Olympics athletes across Pitt County earned him the title of 2022 SONC Coach of the Year.
Darius Darden and Isaiah Woodson
This Unified youth pair are currently serving as Special Olympics U.S. Youth Ambassadors. The two youth leaders traveled to Detroit, Michigan, to represent North Carolina and the Special Olympics U.S. Youth Ambassadors at the first-ever Unified Champion City Schools® Summit in August 2022. Together, they have participated in panels, round-table discussions and speeches centering the power of inclusion. Beyond participating, they have even hosted a Unified Talks episode presented by Special Olympics North America, where they discuss learning to lead at any age.
Watch the episode.
Catrina Thompson wears many hats. To name a few, she is retired Chief of the Winston-Salem Police Department, U.S. marshal for the Middle District of North Carolina, former board member for Special Olympics North Carolina, parent to a Special Olympics athlete. To say she is a leader in the Special Olympics movement and in many communities would be an understatement.
Read more about Catrina.
In addition to leading the way, literally, on the track, Ke’Shaun Tillman has opened doors in his community for other people with intellectual disabilities to work in the field of photography. Throughout a mentorship program, Tillman had the opportunity to photograph for News-Topic in Lenoir and Mount Airy News and have his work published both digitally and in print. Since then, he’s been a stringer, a freelance photographer, for two years at the Lenoir News-Topic. His passion for his craft is inspiring to all around him, especially his friends and teammates in Special Olympics Wilkes County.
When the Partner Up Power Up at-home fitness program launched during the height of the pandemic, Shanequa Hill made her mission to be on as many sessions as possible, inspiring her fellow athletes to remain active and energized. As her tennis coach Robert Cause worked closely with Hill in completing the first two rounds of Partner Up Power Up in 2020 and 2021, he described her as being, “enthusiastic, a good person and someone who wants to do everything right.” Due in part to her ability to consistently show up, work hard and encourage others to do the same in an exceptionally difficult time, Hill was named the 2021 SONC Athlete of the Year and the 2022 Special Olympics Brunswick County Athlete of the Year! She has continued her efforts of leading by example since then. See her story.
After joining the North Carolina Law Enforcement Torch Run® (NC LETR) for Special Olympics in 2020, Deputy Tiffany Hill of the Union County Sheriff’s Office was appointed to the NC LETR Council in 2021. In her time with the NC LETR, Hill has been a driving force for inclusion in her community. Since 2020, she has helped her agency raise more than $33,000 for Special Olympics North Carolina. In Hill’s words, “The way I was raised and the way I live my life is when something is put in front of me, especially when it is something to help others, I don’t turn it down.” Her leadership in the NC LETR is important in supporting the nearly 40,000 Special Olympics athletes in North Carolina.
Hear from Tiffany.