Pep in their steps

Special Olympic Cheerleaders, also known as SO Cheer, were a constant presence at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle. Squads cheered on the athletes at the airport when they arrived, during the opening and closing ceremonies, and during competition. Although the SO Cheer teams came from all over the country, many performed dance routines choreographed by Bank of America employee Dekeda Brown.

Brown lives outside of Washington, DC, and works as a Business Support Manager in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG).

She participated in the Special Olympics Unified Relay Across America in 2015, when Bank of America employees from across the country delivered the torch for the opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles. In 2016, Brown volunteered to teach a class to Sargent Shriver International Global Messengers on financial literacy.

In 2017, she was invited to become one of the local SO Cheer chapter’s co-head coaches.

"Right there at that [first] meeting, I pulled up some music and came up with a little something we could do,” she said. “It comes really natural to me.”

Coming from a dance background, Brown worked on the slightly longer routines cheerleaders perform on the sideline and on the field during breaks in the action.

She describes her personal choreography style as sassy – but not too sassy.

“It's a nice sass, not a negative sass,” she said. “You have a smile on your face, but you're still giving that sassiness in your moves"

The mother of a daughter with autism, Brown has long worked with people with intellectual disabilities in her community. Outside of her work with Special Olympics, she helps coordinate dance events for children in the DC area.

When her daughter was first diagnosed, she felt like she was dealing with everything on her own. She started sharing her story through a blog, and found others who face the same challenges. At the first event she organized, she made sure to create an atmosphere where parents and children could dance together; some for the very first time.

“This is like therapy for me.…It makes me feel whole,” said Brown. "I'm doing something to help people like me."

Brown is proud of her employer’s long partnership with the Special Olympics. She recalls when Bank of America Vice Chairman Anne Finucane visited DC and spoke to Brown at length about her daughter’s Autism, sharing Finucane’s own experience as a mother of a child with learning differences.

"It made me more comfortable to speak and share my story,” she said. “That brought it full circle for me … I have so much pride working for this company that sees the importance of this partnership."

The SO Cheer commissioner worked with Brown’s group. She helped create routines that were captured on video and were shared with cheerleading squads around the country. That way, the various groups cheering for athletes in Seattle knew some of the same moves.

"It's going to be amazing to see,” said Brown. “They know they’re doing something that’s going to make people smile.”


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