Best Buddies Global Ambassador Delaina Parrish
After interviewing for and being selected as the inaugural president of my high school chapter, Best Buddies sparked an inner light and a hunger to lead. Seven years ago at the annual Best Buddies Leadership Conference in Indiana, I was surrounded by thousands of young leaders with a shared vision of inclusion. Yet, no one looked like me. This caught Anthony Shriver’s attention at the conference. Best Buddies gave me the opportunity to lead and Anthony’s mentorship and encouragement stayed with me as a guiding light when I embarked on shaping our new high school chapter. My leadership helped infuse a sense of understanding and empathy into our members. With a passionate sponsor and dedicated student leaders, I am proud to say, the legacy of the chapter has grown to over 200 members and is now recognized as one of the most outstanding chapters in Florida.
One of my identities is adaptive design in fashion. It was cultivated by a teacher who encouraged me to draw designs for myself and people with different body types. My aide threaded the needles while I pumped the foot pedal with my hand! My skills were small, but my passion was strong. It took me to the 5th Avenue showroom of mega-mentor Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, founder of Vera Bradley, and to the runway in Manhattan modeling Tommy Hilfiger with Runway of Dreams, in front of 600 industry executives, designers, and media. I was even invited to the headquarters of Zappos in Las Vegas, to learn firsthand how their new line of adaptive apparel was hitting the market.
Anything is possible if you work hard, dream big, and have the support and encouragement from friends. These experiences gave me the confidence to lead, innovate, and believe anything is possible!
My journey with Best Buddies served as the central theme of my college entrance essay, which was also the key to unlocking my highest aspirations for the future.
When I earned entrance to the University of Florida, with 50,000 students, life became bigger, as did my opportunities and my obstacles. I came at a moment of newfound inclusion, with a fully accessible dorm and multiple resources. Yet, bias and stigma still shadowed my starlit path to success.
While Fortune 500 companies were recruiting talent, and I had an impressive resume, I found networking and interviewing was not an equalized opportunity for people with most types of disabilities. Finding employment to match my skillsets would become the key driver behind the topic of my TED x U F speech. Today, I am the founder of Fearless Independence, LLC, which consults businesses across the globe to promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion into their marketing practices.
Now, it is up to YOU to recognize people of all abilities. We must encourage groundbreaking innovation and push the boundaries and test the strength of inclusion, safety nets, and equity in friendship, integrated employment, leadership development, and inclusive living. Today, we must be ready! Together with Best Buddies, we are the catalyst for change.”