How I Continue Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s Legacy of Inclusion

By Daniel Smrokowski, Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger- SO Illinois
Special Olympics North America Medium Blog, July 2021

Eunice Kennedy Shriver is the founder of Special Olympics. On July 10, it would have been Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s 100th Birthday. Fifty-three years ago, Mrs. Shriver began what today we know as her legacy of inclusion. Over five decades ago, Eunice saw isolation in society for those of us with intellectual disabilities. First, it began with her sister Rosemary Kennedy. Then many others in our society reached out to her having experienced the same exclusion of our underrepresented community. I am grateful to Mrs. Shriver for engaging with our community and becoming a strong advocate for those with intellectual disabilities. Eunice Kennedy Shriver was a leader of inclusion.

Fast forward to today and I am proud to continue Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s legacy of inclusion. Over a decade ago, I saw a lack of understanding, acceptance, and inclusion in our society. In various forms of media — podcasts, radio, television, and movies — there was exclusion of those with intellectual disabilities. My story of continuing Mrs. Shriver’s legacy of inclusion began in 2008–2009 when I joined the Athlete Leadership Program in my home state of Illinois. Little did I know at the time, but I would eventually follow in Mrs. Shriver’s footsteps to become a global leader of inclusion.

Podcasting is my way of following in Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s footsteps. For 13 years, I’ve been leading the way as a person with intellectual disabilities producing weekly podcasts. As an award-winning podcaster, I am giving respect and a voice to my fellow Special Olympics athletes across the globe via The Special Chronicles Show podcast. In 2008, I began with a single podcast show. Fast forward to today and I’ve expanded to become the Executive Producer of the Special Chronicles Network, producing weekly audio and video podcasts.

Through my podcasts, I spread Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s legacy by including others in the behind-the-scenes production team and also as on-air guests. The volunteer producers that I get to assist me are often parents and those without disabilities. The guests range from an Emmy-winning TV producer to TV sitcom actor to authors, filmmakers, parents, and students, many of whom don’t have a disability. Because I shine a light on people with and without disabilities in all my podcasts over the past 13 years, audiences can see inclusion in action. That is the best way I can spread Mrs. Shriver’s legacy of inclusion through my weekly podcasts.

Through the hundreds of podcast episodes I’ve produced, I’m “showing people giftedness, strength, compassion, humor, and always proving that we all deserve a place and [you’re] making that possible for millions of people,” said Tim Shriver, Chairman of our movement, on Episode 301 of The Special Chronicles Show.

One of my favorite memories was a chance to hold a conversation with Tim Shriver, son of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Chairman of our Special Olympics movement. This was in July 2018 during the 50th Anniversary Celebration in Chicago. It was one of my best podcast episodes to date. It took me a decade of practice, courage, and persistence to get this opportunity. Tim and I recorded in the hallway of a hotel in downtown Chicago. We had a small podcast crew with a few cameras, a small social media team, and a live audience of people just walking by. It was awesome and probably one of my favorite podcast memories!

“You are a role model for many, many Special Olympics athletes, but you’re a role model for the rest of us too, and never underestimate the good you’re doing. It’s hard work what you’ve chosen to do. It takes a lot of determination, [and] persistence,” said Tim Shriver.

As we concluded the twenty-minute podcast, Tim Shriver shared the following with our listeners about the work I am doing to make a difference in our society: “people notice and you’re teaching people powerful lessons about the best of humanity and I thank you for it.”

I know that it’s important for my podcasts to continue Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s legacy of inclusion to lead the way in self-advocacy in the media and as a platform for people of all abilities. A place to be understood. A place to be respected. A place guests and audiences can trust for true, real-life conversations, real-life stories to be heard on a global platform.

As we celebrate Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s 100th birthday on July 10, I hope you will join me in continuing her legacy of inclusion. You can do so by joining our community of podcast listeners on specialchronicles.com.

Eunice taught us that hate can be met by love. Special Olympics athletes show love when we are met with hate. That’s exactly the way I have always been. No matter what, when people say derogatory things about me and my friends, I smile, I listen, and I stay happy when interacting with them. Special Olympics brings out the best in me and brings out the best in every person.

To Tim, Mark Shriver and the Shriver family: On behalf of my fellow 6 million Special Olympics athletes across the globe, Happy Birthday to your mom, Eunice Kennedy Shriver. I’m honored and grateful to continue her legacy of inclusion as a Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger.

Join me and take the pledge for inclusion at JoinTheRevolution.org/Pledge.