Throughout our nation’s history there have been leaders who make their mark while in office. Others have their names etched in the history books after they are gone. And then there are a rare few, with an extraordinary depth of understanding. They can work in the present with a sixth sense for the future. For the three million American children, teens and adults affected by autism, Mike Bloomberg has been this kind of leader.
Sure, on the surface, Mike Bloomberg keeps a straight, serious face. He is an intense guy with a mind like a laser.
And it has served all of us in New York City quite well. Look around. Times Square is a wonder of light and amusement. The West Side is a playground dotted with parks and tracks, cruise ships, tour boats and of course the Space Shuttle sitting on top of the Intrepid. People smile and even give directions to tourists, and the subways now have electronics signs and loud speakers that work.
But there’s another side to Mayor Mike Bloomberg – beyond the suits and oxfords, press conferences and ribbon-cutting ceremonies. It’s not obvious in the quick sound bites on the news.
He really cares about people – all people. And we at Autism Speaks very much know that firsthand.
When we proposed a project to raise awareness of autism in the tight-knit Korean-American community in Queens, the mayor did not hesitate. Through the Bloomberg Family Foundation, we began a project that at this moment is transforming that community.
Please understand that even though there are 70-million people affected by autism worldwide, the word “autism” wasn’t even in the vernacular of many of the families there. Now it is moving from behind closed doors into the open -- and a place of acceptance -- where we can then be of real help to families.
Through the generosity of the Bloomberg gift, interviews with parents were conducted, and dozens of volunteers helped hand out specially translated Autism Speaks 100 Day Tool Kits to guide families through the often painful and confusing time after diagnosis. Then, a diverse Community Advisory Board was created to move the awareness into action and get more children into care right away. And as of this writing, a hotline is in the works for parents. Imagine that…
A community that could not embrace the idea of having autism within its “walls” - now owns it and is actively seeking solutions. Because of Mike Bloomberg’s vision social and cultural walls began to crumble. These families began finding their voice. They are no longer hiding their children affected by autism from neighbors and the rest of the world.
The mayor knew this project was like opening a floodgate. Once you’ve committed to pulling open the lever—you’re committed. And committed is what he has been. Over the next five years he has earmarked hundreds of thousands of dollars to meaningful Autism Speaks work for the three million Americans affected by autism.
This mayor understands that autism has no boundaries. You cannot buy your way out of it or move away from it. It can take a small village to get a child through each day. He knows the real number of people affected by autism in the U.S. is closer to thirty million people.
On behalf of all the families of children affected by autism, thank you Mr. Mayor. You had a vision, and you have altered the future of countless children and their families. You may be leaving office, but your generosity will never leave those whose lives you have transformed.