Vanderbilt Kennedy Center

Advocating on Down Syndrome Awareness Day

Updated on 4/12/2013 9:38:39 AM.

World Down Syndrome Awareness Day in Middle Tennessee on March 21, 2013, began with a visit to the State Capitol where advocates spoke on the House Floor, toured, and met and took a photo with Tennessee Governor Haslam. The Day’s theme was “So Much More Than Down Syndrome.”

Will McMillan and Nila Huddleston received a standing ovation from the Tennessee House Floor. McMillan introduced himself as “a Nashville resident and registered voter, a member of the Down Syndrome Association of Middle Tennessee, and a student enrolled in Next Steps at Vanderbilt.”

McMillan shared how he’s benefitted from his postsecondary education through Next Steps at Vanderbilt. His internships have included work in Vanderbilt Athletics, Libraries, and the Department of Leadership, Policy, and Organization. He just returned from a community service spring break trip to New Orleans.

“Since I have been in college, I’ve learned how to be more independent,” McMillan shared. “Now, I will have the tools for life that will help me prepare for work, independent living, and traveling.”

McMillan asked State legislators to support the Step UP legislation, which would extend Hope scholarship support from lottery proceeds to Tennessee students in postsecondary education programs for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “This is important,” McMillan said, “because it will grant the opportunity for students like me to gain career and leadership skills and therefore become more self-reliant adults within our society. We want to work just like everyone else.”

Nila Huddleston is a senior at Independence High School and an active member in FCCLA, Best Buddies, DECA, and the Moccasins cheerleading team. After graduation, she hopes to live on her own and go to college, she told legislators. Huddleston spoke with confidence about wanting to be an actor. She ended her speech saying, “It’s important that you know about me and Down syndrome so that you can pass laws that help people like me.”

McMillan and Huddleston were among several advocates including Jim Henry, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Development Disabilities, and Alecia Talbott, Executive Director of the Down Syndrome Association of Middle Tennessee, as well as other advocates with Down syndrome.

The Day continued with a celebration at Franklin Road Academy led by many people of different ages with Down syndrome, their family members, and friends. Ethan Beasley led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance. Robert Lewis and his peer and classmate, George Sommers, talked to the group about how they both benefit from going to school together. Sharmane Pearson also spoke. A contest was held to create a video to show how individuals are “so much more than Down syndrome.” The winner, Tori Cook, has two siblings with Down syndrome.

The celebration concluded with an original performance of a song by Lydia Hollis, who also has two siblings with Down syndrome. Lydia and her mom wrote the song with the hope of raising money to encourage adoption children with Down syndrome. Lydia ‘s lyrics provided an appropriate ending for the day celebrating people with Down syndrome and their relationships with their family, friends, classmates, and the world they live in. She sang, “How empty my life would be without you. The promise is almost in view, take it in, it’s all for you.”

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