Friday, February 14, 2014

Tampa Bay Best Buddies Serves Vulnerable

By Jason Whittemore and Luis Viera

To us, one of the great attributes of our country has been the march toward equality for all.  Since its founding, our country has made great strides — generation by generation — to bring the American promise of liberty and equality to more and more groups of Americans.

Few Americans have had a more troubled journey to this promise than those with developmental disabilities. One organization that has done so much to fulfill both the promise of liberty and equality, as well as the moral promise of dignity, for Americans with developmental disabilities is Best Buddies.

Since its founding, Best Buddies has served as one of the greatest advocates for those with developmental disabilities in the United States. Founded by two great Americans, Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Best Buddies has come to reflect the hopes and dreams of families raising children with developmental disabilities and special needs.

The purpose of Best Buddies is simple: to create a culture of tolerance, affirmation, and fair play in our school system as it applies to those with developmental disabilities. Participating schools have students without special needs who are partnered with “Buddies,” or individuals with special needs or developmental disabilities.  Those students then serve as not only friends for their “Buddies” but as advocates. This role fosters tolerance in our schools for a population that is all too often maligned and attacked, and it allows the student participant to become aware of a world that few of us know about.

We both are proud to serve on the board of the Tampa Bay Best Buddies organization.  We come to this organization based on similar experiences.  We both have siblings who are developmentally disabled.  We both know what is like to hear words such as “retarded” and feel the sting of bias as suffered by our siblings. We both know what it is like to feel the scar of rejection or discrimination, as felt by our beloved siblings. And we both know what it is like to see our parents hope and pray that their special-needs child will be cared for after they are no longer on this earth to protect them.

We both firmly believe that there is no greater duty in life than to speak out on behalf of those who have no voice. As attorneys, we promise to defend the substantive values enshrined in our Constitution. As Americans, we are given the duty to care for our neighbor.

 There are few populations more ripe for this level of care and advocacy than those with developmental disabilities. This is a group of Americans who, quite often, lack a voice to speak on their behalf.
That is why it is incumbent on us ― both as Americans and attorneys ― to speak out for this group of vulnerable people who have no voice. People like our siblings deserve dignity, and until the day this goal is achieved, Best Buddies of Tampa Bay will be here to advocate on their behalf.

We hope you will join us in our journey. For more information, go to or contact us.