Leading by Example: Celebrating Inclusion with Unified Youth Leadership Summits

In team sports, athletes achieve their best when they work together. We believe the same is true in youth leadership. That’s why we invited students from New York City and the Capital District, respectively, to meet at two Unified leadership summits.

In this article, we’ll examine both events, then show you how to bring them to your school.

Online in NYC

In March, Special Olympics New York hosted its first-ever Virtual Unified Summit. With 550 participants from 11 New York City schools attending, it’s safe to say it was a hit.

“Diversity is being invited to attend a dance,” explained New York City Region Director of Program Vance Toure. “Inclusion is being invited onto the dance floor. One of our goals with this event was to teach that distinction and instill the lesson in our attendees.”

The summit was called “Welcome to Special Olympics: Defining Inclusion and Leadership,” and it began with words from motivational speaker Marc Williams. As the leader of his own foundation and an award-winning public speaker, Marc was the perfect guest to speak about the power of community.

Unbeknownst to Marc, his mother struggled with intellectual disabilities throughout his childhood. He linked that experience with Unified Sports, explaining how his community helped raise him. When Marc finished, attendees were amazed.

“They were blown away,” Toure remembers. “Marc did an incredible job outlining the value of community, thereby showing why Unified is so important in schools.”

In addition to Marc’s speech, students received Unified shirts prior to the summit. Printed in black and white, these shirts depicted the following message: “I choose to include because…” In the blank line afterward, students were encouraged to list their own reasons.

Following Marc’s speech, staff rounded out the summit with questions from the attendees. One school was on the fence about committing to Unified, but after the summit, they signed on with enthusiasm.

“We look forward to amplifying all three pillars of Unified this fall with these schools and so many more,” said Toure.

Live in the Capital District Region

In April, several schools united at the Italian American Community Center in Albany for a summit of their own.

This event began with a simple icebreaker activity. The goal: To discuss Unified and brainstorm ideas for students to bring back to their communities. Easels were situated throughout the room, and everyone wrote down their ideas for future consideration.

Next up, schools gave presentations about how they exemplify Unified values. Some, such as recent National Banner winner Shenendehowa High School, described the impact of Unified on their lives. Others, such as Columbia and Tamarac, discussed the myriad ways Unified had changed their school’s culture.

After a break for lunch, pictures, and more discussion, attendees also collected some free Unified stickers. (We loved our custom stickers from Sticker Mule, and the students loved them, too!) After that, we rounded out the day with some Unified Bocce.

“Last year’s Youth Leadership Summit provided a great way for students from all over the area to come together, finally again in person, to share ideas about inclusion at their schools,” said Leigh Howard, Capital District Region Director of Program. “I was truly in awe of the testimonials that were shared, the creativity that has been displayed by each school’s youth leadership group, and the commitment each student and advisor brings to making their schools more inclusive for all. I cannot wait to host this year’s fall summit to hear more about the efforts of these students since last spring.”

Get Your School Involved

Though Unified Summits are a tremendous opportunity for student-athletes throughout the state, they’re only one small component of Unified itself. If your school doesn’t have this, it should! Click here to learn more.