Juanita Kreps Award

Speech for the JC Penney Juanita Kreps Award

November 1, 1999

Plano, TX

Thank you.

What a great honor it is for me to be here tonight with all of you to receive this distinguished award honoring the spirit of American women! All of us here are indebted to our mothers and sisters before us, whose struggles for recognition went unfulfilled. We are their legacy, and we stand here only in their shadow.

I wish to thank Juanita Kreps, who fittingly was the first recipient of the award bearing her name. She was the first woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of Commerce, and the fourth woman in U.S. history to be named to a Cabinet position. I admire Dr. Kreps for opening the doors of public serve to the brilliance and nurturing qualities of women-women who now serve as powerful advocates for economic, civil and family rights throughout the world. Dr. Kreps has also been a trailblazer for women in America's boardrooms, being the first woman to serve on JC Penney's Board of Directors. I am indeed honored to be given this award named after a woman who has accomplished so much.

I am proud to recognize the work that JC Penney is doing to employ people with mental retardation, and other disabilities, in its many retail stores, offices, and distribution centers. I thank JC Penney for supporting programs like the Career Fair sponsored by the Dallas Mayor's Committee for Employment of Persons with Disabilities. The J. C. Penney efforts, together with that of other companies represented here in this room, will bring a sense of hope, accomplishment and self-respect to special families throughout the Nation.

This award is, for me, a celebration, not of my own work but of the countless accomplishments of individuals with mental retardation the world over. Tonight, we celebrate the stories not of the world's mighty and gifted, but the stories of simple acts of perseverance and courage and love from people with mental retardation and their families!

The parents of people with mental retardation-the unsung heroic leaders of our era-have had to live, work and persevere through a tragic period of history. So-called experts claimed that human beings with mental retardation could not learn. Children with mental retardation were forced to live in prison-like conditions, condemned by our ignorance, not their own.

Only in the second half of this century did the mothers and fathers of children with mental retardation sweep across this nation demanding justice for their children. They challenged the so-called experts and political leaders. They said, "My child is of value, of transcendent value, of human value."

"My child is not a mistake," they said, but these mothers and fathers were lone voices demanding respect for their children. They rejected indifference; they fought against ridicule; they overcame obstacle after obstacle to find a chance to share their joy of human love proclaimed in their children. They taught us great lessons so often missed: that love and faith and hope with action do indeed have a power of their own to create a better world.

And now, as we look to the future, we see the remarkable accomplishments of people with mental retardation and marvel at the lessons they have taught us. By creating opportunity where there was none, we have discovered a wisdom that speaks to the mighty and to the powerful. It is the wisdom of humility that takes great joy in each person's gifts no matter how small. It is the wisdom of simplicity that seeks friendship and sharing more than power and false praise. It is the wisdom of the heart that understands that courage and perseverance and love are the gifts that are the most valuable to human achievement and human community. It is the wisdom of my own mother who showered love in equal measure on her son who became President of the United States and her daughter who had special needs.

Today, there is a whole new image for individuals with mental retardation. They are showing the world their potentials. They are succeeding in school and graduating in record numbers. They are working in good paying jobs and demonstrating economic self-reliance. They are serving as coaches and referees in Special Olympics and other athletic events. And they are speaking up, delivering speeches, and telling their stories, reminding the world that they are not a cause for pity, but rather individuals with ideas and feelings and dreams for the future.

So I ask that you remember those with mental retardation the world over-remember not to pity them but, instead, to unlock their gifts. Each of us can improve the lives of special persons by providing them a chance to show the world what they can accomplish.

Consider the issue of employment. Many of the Companies represented in this room today were early leaders in disability employment. But today, you as business leaders must ask: "Can we redefine job roles to better accommodate people with mental retardation?" "Can we simplify the directions of a given task so that they better understand what is expected of them?" "Can we provide them with job coaches and extra training to ensure their success?" The answer to these questions should be a resounding "Yes," we can!" I challenge all of us to ask ourselves those questions-and to look for ways in your own businesses to create more opportunities for people with mental retardation.

Also, as parents, we can create opportunities for our children to form lasting friendships with other children who have mental retardation. We can encourage our older children to become involved in a program like Best Buddies, started by my son Anthony, to create friendships between college students and students with mental retardation. Indeed, over 20 of the 500 college programs exist here in Texas.

For people with mental retardation, programs like Best Buddies are a lifeline to the joy of having and being a friend, going to parties and music festivals; playing sports; improving reading, writing and computer skills; finding a job and getting off welfare. And for people with mental retardation, Best Buddies has created a new spirit of public service for thousands of high school, college, and citizen volunteers that will last a lifetime.

Yeats once wrote: "Think where man's glory most begin, and ends, and say my glory was, I had such friends."I ask you all to create opportunities for your children to experience this glory of lasting friendships with special children and to experience the joy of service to another human being.

Special Olympics is another program that welcomes people with mental retardation and gives them the opportunity to demonstrate their athletic skills and talents. Today, 1,300,000 athletes proudly compete in 20 thousands athletic events, each year in more than 180 countries. And the world watches in amazement as those who were thought not able to run 100 meters now run marathons; those who were thought unable to float now swim a 400 meter-medley; those who were thought unable to understand the concept of team now play 21 sports including soccer, volleyball, cross country and downhill skiing, skating, golf, tennis and gymnastics and also ping pong.

So I ask all of you to join me in a toast to the athletes of Special Olympics, to the friendships in Best Buddies, and to the 170 million persons with mental retardation we have yet to reach and to all of you-the guests here tonight-my deepest thanks for so graciously recognizing the humanity-indeed the glory-of those heroic members of our society. I accept this award on their behalf, and with the pledge to continue our shared struggle which will do nothing less than change the world!...

Thank you.