With the political whipping that CNN is taking, whether deserved or not, there were not nearly the number of world-wide viewers as there should have been Sunday night when Amy Wright, a 44-year-old woman with movie-star good looks, was named as the CNN “Hero of the Year.” But that’s not the worst of it -- there were a darn far less watching CNN yesterday morning when this year’s winner presented us with “The Greatest Sentence of all 2017.”
Amy and her husband, who she has coyly called “Mister Wright” from the first day she met him, have four children. There is Lillie, 17, and Emma Grace, 16. The third child, now 12, was born with Down syndrome. After Beau arrived, the fourth, now six-year-old Bitty, was also born with Down. For two children in the same family to have Down is very rare but that’s what happened. "When you become a parent of a child with special needs, you are instantly thrust into becoming an advocate," Wright has said, trying to explain, “You try to make people see the beauty in their lives … that we see."
One day as Amy stood in the shower, she had a thought. (“Every good thought I’ve ever had comes in the shower!”). She nurtured it, fed it, but she still struggles to believe the miracle that occurred. “It hit me like a lightning bolt: a coffee shop!" she told viewers. "I realized it would be the perfect environment for bringing people together. Seeing the staff taking orders, serving coffee -- they'd realize how capable they are."
So in February of 2016, Beau’s Coffee Shop opened in Wilmington, North Carolina. It was birthed in a meager 500-square-foot store front, but it was special from the very start. The Wrights tapped into the most marvelous employee base you can imagine – get this --- over 80 percent have intellectual and developmental disabilities. People with IDD can’t get jobs, but at Beau & Bitty’s they can. That’s the special ingredient!
People flocked to Beau’s in droves. That same year, Beau asked for a special birthday present. Could the coffee shop be called Beau & Bitty’s? Since then, the business has exploded. Today they are in a 5,000 square-foot location and there are mind-boggling plans to build new stores. Today there are nearly 50 employees. These employees are the best in the world. People with IDD can’t get jobs but at Beau & Bitty’s they can. And they each thrive; every employee is precious and that’s the special ingredient!
Today everybody in Wilmington and surrounding counties goes to the shop to share in the joy and warmth that only those with families blessed with Down syndrome children can most appreciate. On Sunday night, when Amy Wright couldn’t contain her emotion, she held the CNN “Hero of the Year” Award and said she was returning to Wilmington as fast as she could to “pass it forward “to 50 of my Heroes of the Year.”
Obviously that brought down the house, causing comedian Jim Gaffin to quip, "This is emotionally taxing." Ya’ think!
But the biggest alligator tears came yesterday morning when Amy made a morning-after appearance on the network’s “New Day” with host Alisyn Camerota. Alisyn sensed Beau and Bitty were back home watching with the Wrights’ two older daughters and asked if Amy wanted to tell them good morning … or something.
Beau and Bitty’s mom looked right at the camera and said – yes – the Best Sentence of 2017: “I would not change you for the world … but I will change the world for you.” Oh my God in heaven – show me one mother who doesn’t cradle that dream! Glory!
It took a second for the host to recover, “Oh my gosh, it was a tearjerker last night and this morning," she said with delight. Amy told the ‘New Day” viewers, "It is a very personal story for me … When Beau was born 13 years ago, my husband Ben and I didn't know anything about Down syndrome, and I reflect on that and the fear we felt and the grief we felt and how we transformed that into some of the greatest joy we've known in our lives."
The CNN host said, "You use a statistic: 70 percent of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities like Down syndrome, like cerebral palsy, like autism, are not employed, and so what kind of life is that?"
"It's not that the jobs aren't there, it's that people don't value people with intellectual and developmental disabilities," Wright implored all of America. "And so, if we can reframe the way people think about people with IDD, then opportunities are organically going to follow."
Earlier Beau and Bitty’s mom had insisted, “My children are not broken … My employees are not broken; 200 million people across the world living with an intellectual or developmental disability are not broken," Wright said as she accepted her top 10 CNN Hero award. "What is broken is the lens through which we view people with disabilities.
"Bitty & Beau's Coffee is a new lens, one that changes the way people see other people. It's about human value. It's about acceptance. It's about inclusion. It's about much more than a cup of coffee."
Forgive me, but I must add one more … “It’s about us.”