Choosing to Include:
Why I’m Honored to be Recognized by the National Down Syndrome Congress

It is my great pleasure to be honored by the National Down Syndrome Congress at its Soiree of Stars Virtual Gala.  To be recognized as an individual who has made an impact in the Down’s community is humbling and a lifelong journey of learning. I’m certainly blessed because my experience and personal story started as a child because my cousin had Down syndrome. Over the years, it has been enhanced and blessed by the amazing students and families I have met in my own personal and professional journey of supporting inclusion.

According to the CDC, “Down syndrome remains the most common chromosomal condition diagnosed in the United States. Each year, about 6,000 babies born in the United States have Down syndrome. This means that Down syndrome occurs in about 1 in every 700 babies.“  Though there are certainly health challenges associated with the condition, including intellectual disability that is typically mild to moderate, many children, with early intervention and supports in school, “are included in regular classes”.  Indeed, children with Down Syndrome can grow into adults who hold jobs, live independently, drive, maintain positive and healthy relationships, and so much more.  Don’t count these kids or adults out! My cousin, for example, finished school, held a stable job and cares for his family!

I’ve strived to “choose to include” over the course of my career at every step of the way, in every school district I’ve served.  I was deeply influenced and shaped early in my life by observing how my cousin was treated in school. We were almost the same age so we went to the same schools at the same time for a number of years. I remember as kid in elementary school my cousin having to attend classes in portables (always!), eat lunch AFTER the regular education kids, use the playground after us as well – never able to be included in the regular school experiences. He certainly was not able to take classes with me or able to participate in extracurricular activities. That never sat well with me. In our family, he was always included – one of us – but it wasn’t the same in school. I made a personal pact with myself to change that for kids with Down syndrome as an educator. Whether championing students with a disability, ensuring our LGBTQ students feel accepted, or pushing for resource equity for students living in poverty (many of whom are boys and girls of color), I’ve tried to always keep equity and access as my North Star.  It’s something that was instilled in me early on by my parents in my hometown of Selma, and I’m glad to continue the fight as we still have much work to do.

That’s my mom (with the camera), my cousin (who taught me everything I needed to learn about empathy and inclusion) and me (in the white dress). Everyone, including him, came to my First Communion — we rocked those matching afros!

I think one of the proudest moments of my career was in Atlanta Public Schools (APS) when the Georgia Department of Education notified us that the district had successfully exited disproportionality status for the over-suspension of African-American students with disabilities, based on final school year 2017 discipline data verified by the state. APS was disproportionate since 2009 (five years before my tenure), resulting in significant financial impact to our special education funding. It was a team effort led by then Assistant Superintendent Tammie Workman for Student Services and then Executive Director of Special Education Katika Lovett (who has been promoted since then, of course)!

So, it’s time for an Inclusion Revolution.  It’s long overdue! For students and adults living with a disability or for any other marginalized populations. I’ll keep championing and I hope you join me on the journey. 

Tune in Thursday , October 22 at 7 p.m. and let’s celebrate together with Kroger, Ludacris, Dale Murphy, Dabo Swinney, Tim Tebow , Everyday Heroes, Down Country and Kennesaw State University! Let’s cheer on the good work happening in our Down syndrome community.  I’ll be there and hope you will too! (Finally, I want to thank my cousin for teaching me to be a better person my entire life. I love you!)

See the press release below for details:

Media Contact:

Chelsea Rosen                                                                                         


NDSC Contact:
Christine Milano770.604.9500

Dr. Meria Carstarphen, Kroger, Down Country, Kennesaw State University and Everyday Heroes to be Honored at the Soiree of Stars Presented by the National Down Syndrome Congress

ATLANTA – (DATE) – The inaugural Soiree of Stars Virtual Gala will be presented by the National Down Syndrome Congress (NDSC) on Thursday, October 22, 2020. The event, emceed by renowned journalist Monica Pearson, will shine a light on individuals, organizations and businesses that have made an impact on the Down syndrome community in five categories: Individual, Dr. Meria Carstarphen; Nonprofit, Down Country; Corporate, Kroger; Organization, Kennesaw State University; Self-Advocate, Everyday Heroes. Additionally, the event will feature celebrity appearances by Ludacris, Tim Tebow and wife Demi-Leigh Tebow, Dabo Swinney, and Dale Murphy.

Dr. Meria Carstarphen is well-known as an advocate for special education. During her tenure as Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent, Carstarphen tackled special education programs in schools and focused on leveling the disproportionate suspension of students with intellectual disabilities by ensuring children with disabilities were provided the support they needed to succeed.

Down Country is an affiliate organization of the National Down Syndrome Congress dedicated to helping provide training and promoting positive awareness for individuals of all disabilities and abilities. The nonprofit operates as a resource for education and awareness for the exceptionally gifted community. Down Country does not only serve those affected by Down syndrome but anyone with learning differences.

Kroger has been a longtime supporter of NDSC and the Down syndrome community. Kroger supports independent living for individuals with Down syndrome by offering employment opportunities in the Kroger family of supermarkets across the country.

The Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth at Kennesaw State University offers a fully inclusive post-secondary college education and experience to students with different intellectual or developmental abilities. The Academy focuses on independence through an inclusive campus program – encouraging social growth and development through real-life college experiences.

Self-Advocate Everyday Heroes are individuals with Down syndrome who have worked in essential roles during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event’s beneficiary, The National Down Syndrome Congress, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to an improved world for individuals with Down syndrome. With the help of supporters, NDSC can continue its work as the leading national resource of support and information for anyone touched by or seeking to learn about Down syndrome.

To register for a free ticket or learn about sponsorship opportunities, please visit:

About National Down Syndrome Congress: The National Down Syndrome Congress (NDSC) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to an improved world for individuals with Down syndrome. Founded in 1973, the NDSC is a leading national resource of support and information for anyone touched by or seeking to learn about Down syndrome, from the moment of prenatal diagnosis through adulthood. The purpose of the NDSC is to promote the interests of people with Down syndrome and their families through advocacy, public awareness, and information. Empowering individuals and families from all demographic backgrounds and reshaping the way people understand and experience Down syndrome. The National Down Syndrome Congress is dedicated to an improved world for individuals with Down syndrome. To learn more about the National Down Syndrome Congress, visit

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