Juneteeth: Special Olympics Pauses to Reflect

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is celebrated every 19 June. This holiday commemorates the announcement in Galveston, Texas, on 19 June 1865 that all enslaved people were free and celebrates the end of slavery. Although the Emancipation Proclamation was two and a half years earlier, Juneteenth marks the day when everyone was free. During the week of 15-18 June leading up to Juneteenth, Special Olympics used our social media channels to share reflections from our athlete leaders in the U.S. and around the world. They explored the importance of Juneteenth, the importance of inclusion, and the importance of recognizing the value in each individual.
Loretta Claiborne resting her chin on her hands.
Loretta Claiborne, Chief Inspiration Officer; Vice Chair, Board of Directors, Special Olympics
“I was the one who they picked on. I would think about the next day and wonder how I would get through. What path am I going to take? That could have been the destiny of my life. I got angry. But then I found Special Olympics and I felt seen and heard when at my first practice a coach asked me what I wanted to do. I never got asked my opinion and I felt like I was part of something for the first time in my life. They didn’t care I was black, or had old running shoes, they included me. When you talk about diversity it’s about including everybody. When you include you don’t discriminate against anyone.”
Hanna Atkinson and Zalikha Almansoori standing on stage together.
Hanna Joy Atkinson, Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger, Special Olympics Colorado
“I see justice created in friendships among all people. We deserve to live in a world of kindness and respectfulness. We all have something to offer and need to be one team where everyone has the right to be themselves and are open to new possibilities and see the capabilities that others bring to the world.”
Haseeb Abasi staing on stage in his gray Sargent Shriver International Global messenger blazer and red tie.
Haseeb Abbasi, Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger,Special Olympics Pakistan (SOP)
"My thoughts on equality and inclusion are very clear as I have and still sometimes face discrimination from the community I’m living in. It haunts me like a nightmare, thinking if I have not been part of Special Olympics Pakistan, where I would have ended up. I feel lucky to be part of the movement where for the first time in my life I felt people were listening to me and that I too had a voice. The hardest thing for me was to speak up and I'm blessed that I have broken the most difficult barrier of my life and found my voice. Now, I want to use my voice to motivate others to go and chase their dreams and reach for the stars."
Emanuelle de Souza sitting in front of a microphone.
Emanuelle de Souza, Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger, Special Olympics Brazil
“I always felt that my voice mattered and that my voice could be the voice of thousands athletes across the globe. But, I don't know what it would be if it wasn't for all the support from Special Olympics to get through tough moments. We still have a lot of work to do, but I can see a clear path rounded by amazing people that want to make the difference together with us the athletes. We are on the way to build a better unified world.”
Nyasha standing behind a podium and smiling at the crowd.
Nyasha Derera, Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger, Special Olympics Zimbabwe
“When I joined Special Olympics I didn't know how it is to be loved, embraced, accepted, and appreciated. I have now discovered a social and inclusive life that made me forget the times of rejection, neglecting and indifference. I discovered a new family which has given me a sense of belonging, Freedom to express myself as a human being, the right to life, happiness and Joy. Special Olympics is a movement that welcomes everyone. It liberates humanity from all over the world despite color, race, gender, language.”
Nyasha and Renee standing behind a podium and holding one another's raised hand.
Renee Manfredi, Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger, Special Olympics Hawaii
"I know what it feels like to be excluded. I was made fun of a lot & teased because I didn’t understand everything right away. I know what it’s like to feel small & talked over, like you aren’t even there. I also know what it feels like to included, to be seen & heard.

When I first joined Special Olympics it was a whole new world for me and for the first time in my life I was wanted & accepted for who I was. There was no prejudice, no judgement, and I was just accepted for who I am, the way I am. From that first encounter, I learned it was ok to be just me.

I realized I had a voice & they wanted to know what I had to say. This was the first time in my life I ever felt heard and I could see I had a purpose.

Everyone wants to be seen. Everyone has a voice they want to be heard. Everyone matters. Everyone has a purpose. This is the goal of Inclusion.

When a person feels like they are heard & that they matter, it is the beginning of being a whole new person. When you are empowered to turn silence into your voice, you can turn doubt into belief, fear into confidence, and someone who was on the sidelines can become a Leader who will help others."
In response to protests across the U.S. supporting social justice for African Americans