Saturday, May 14, 2016

Bank of America & The Special Olympics: Prioritizing Inclusion

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For over three decades, Bank of America has partnered with The Special Olympics in an ongoing effort to encourage diversity and inclusion of those with disabilities and special needs. Most recently, the company created the first-ever cross-country Unified Relay Across America and utilized social media with the #PassTheFlame hashtag in 2015.

The Unified Relay passed through every American state in under fifty days and involved tens of thousands of participants carrying the Flame of Hope to "light the way" for a better future for those with developmental disabilities. The Flame of Hope was split into three flames at the start of the race - one for each of the three routes simultaneously beginning in Maine, Florida, and Washington D.C. Each route was guided by groups of co-captains including country singer-songwriter Josh Turner, Chicago Sky forward and shooting guard Elena Delle Donne, and Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden. Along each route, the participants were greeted by other celebrity guests, musical performances, and cheering crowds. The race concluded when all three of the routes unified at the Opening Ceremony of the 2015 Special Olympics in Los Angeles. As Olympic figure-skater Michelle Kwan said of the relay, "[It is] a run that not only touched every state in the union, every corner of this country, but also engaged and inspired every American."

A major aspect of the race was the #PassTheFlame hashtag, which raised awareness and encouraged engagement as it helped participants to document their journey across all social media channels. In addition, the hashtag was used in TV spots and online videos featuring Special Olympics athletes that illustrated the impact of the relay to over ten million viewers.

As its primary partner, Bank of America also played a role in the success of the race; as the presenting sponsor of the relay, it provided vital funding and volunteer support from its employees. The company was also able to draw on its countless connections to local communities throughout the country to encourage both participation and donations and bring the message of unity to an immensely large audience.

Not only was the Unified Relay a success in that it raised over 1.6 million dollars for The Special Olympics, it reaffirmed Bank of America's commitment to inclusion and diversity in the workplace. The brand further demonstrated this by featuring Bank of America employee and Special Olympics athlete Kenny Jones in one of the most popular #PassTheFlame commercials. In a world where judgment and ignorance is widespread, Bank of America's partnership with The Special Olympics and its dedication to both equality in hiring and supporting the differently abled community is very refreshing.

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