HURRICANE — Some people seem to be born with a sense of their own destiny. With a knowledge that they were designed for a special purpose.
That they were born to shine.
Sophie Slack of Hurricane, West Virginia, is one of those people.
In her young 17 years, Sophie has hobnobbed with political leaders and congressmen. Chatted to TV news broadcasters. Spoken at city council meetings.
And on Saturday, Sept. 18, Sophie will shine even brighter, on the big screen. The really big screen.
On a Jumbotron in New York City’s Times Square, Sophie will be nationally recognized as a grand marshal of the National Down Syndrome Society’s New York City Buddy Walk.
Every year since 1995, Buddy Walks have taken place in cities around the country to promote acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome and to raise funds for NDSS incentives.
Being chosen as one of this year’s two grand marshals is a huge honor for Sophie, who has been advocating for herself and others like her for many years.
“Sophie had applied to have her picture featured in the NYC Buddy Walk Video,” her dad Steve Slack explains, “but being chosen a grand marshal came as a complete surprise!”
Steve adds, “We were told that Sophie was chosen because of her work as a self-advocate and because of her achievements.”
That knack of hers to shine no matter what it is she is doing.
A junior at Hurricane High, Sophie has been advocating for disability issues for years already. She has met personally with the likes of Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV; Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; and Ted Cruz, R-Texas. She has supported the creation of ABLE savings accounts for people with disabilities.
“This summer Sophie filmed a national video about ABLE Accounts,” Steve says. “These accounts are not taxed and allow the owners of the accounts to have more than $2,000 in savings to be used for qualified expenses. This allows people to be able to save and have money to spend on their dreams while not having their SSI, Medicaid, and other expenses affected.”
He adds, “It is an opportunity for people with disabilities to have more independence.”
Steve, an accountant by day, spends a lot of his free time advocating for more independence for people with Down syndrome. He is a frequent speaker about disabilities on college campuses, in government meetings, at police departments, and before the press.
“I am a DS Ambassador with the National Down Syndrome Society, a Policy and Advocacy Committee member, and a member of its Inclusive Education Task Force,” Steve says. “I am also a part of the Country Roads Program at WVU.”
Like father, like daughter, then, in advocacy work.
Both Steve and Sophie have participated in Buddy Walks since the latter’s birth, traveling to New York City and Washington, D.C., several times over the years.
Since this year’s walk is virtual, the Slack family plans to gather with friends at Beech Fork Lake on the afternoon of Sept. 18.
Prior to that, from 9:30-10:30 that morning, they will have watched an online video presentation of 500 individuals with Down syndrome who represent the 50 states. Sophie’s photo will be in that presentation. Then at 10:30, Sophie’s grand marshal video will start streaming across a Times Square jumbotron…and across the NDSS Facebook page and YouTube channel so families across the country can tune in.
Sophie and her family can’t wait for the big day.
“I was so proud of Sophie,” Steve admits. “She worked hard to help write her speech for the video. She chose everything that was included in it. Sophie was such a trooper and very serious about filming the whole time.”
For such a young person, Sophie takes many things in life seriously.
Like her love for science and math, which led to her meeting her hero Kathryn Johnson before Johnson’s death.
Or her membership on the Putnam Area Robotics Team (PART). Sophie is the first person in West Virginia with Down syndrome to be a member of a school robotics team.
“A wonderful teacher at Hurricane Middle School, Terri Myers, told Sophie that she could do anything she put her mind to,” Steve recalls. “That lesson has stuck with her to this day.”
So whether she’s identifying planets and stars on her nightly walks with her dad or whether she’s practicing French conversation skills with her teachers and classmates, Sophie Slack keeps shining. Shining with that sense of purpose and destiny she seems to have been born with.
“Sophie believes that we are all working together to make the world full of inclusion,” Steve Slack says, “and I believe she is right.”