Most parents don't have to declare their children's fundamental value, but after two of 2017 CNN Hero of the Year Amy Wright's kids were born with Down syndrome, it was clear that she would have to back them up every step of the way.
"When you become a parent of a child with special needs, you are instantly thrust into becoming an advocate," Wright explained. "Trying to make people see the beauty in their lives that we see."
Wright's advocacy took the form of a coffee shop. She opened Bitty & Beau's Coffee in January 2016, named for her two children.
On Sunday, it was clear that Wright, Bitty, Beau and the 40 disabled employees at the Wilmington, North Carolina, shop have an army of supporters.
Wright was named the 2017 CNN Hero of the Year for her efforts to advocate for disabled people. The award is determined by online voters who selected Wright from among the top 10 CNN Heroes finalists.
Wright will receive $100,000 to grow her cause. All of the top 10 CNN Heroes for 2017 will receive a $10,000 cash award. Donations made to each of their designated nonprofit organizations are also being matched up to $50,000.
"I am bringing this home to the 40 employees who work at Bitty & Beau's because they are my heroes. And most of all to my two youngest children, Bitty and Beau, who are my inspirations," Wright said, hugging her CNN Hero of the Year award. She had a special message for her children.
"I want you to know, because I know you are watching, that I would not change you for the world, but I will change the world for you."
After all, people with physical and intellectual disabilities can be judged by their appearance alone. When Wright and her husband learned that 70% of the disabled are unemployed, they decided to become a part of the solution -- for their children and others.
"It hit me like a lightning bolt: a coffee shop!" Wright said. "I realized it would be the perfect environment for bringing people together. Seeing the staff taking orders, serving coffee -- they'd realize how capable they are."
Wright was presented with her top 10 CNN Hero award by actress Diane Lane, who said: "She opened a business where people like her son and daughter could work and shine."
Sunday's CNN Heroes tribute show was a night of shining stars, salutes and tears -- and a few laughs, too.
Hosts Kelly Ripa and Anderson Cooper kicked things off live from New York's American Museum of Natural History with a unique rendition of "Wind Beneath My Wings," complete with jazz hands by Kelly.
Presenters Christian Bale, Diane Lane, Alfre Woodard, Christopher Meloni, Gaten Matarazzo and others added star power to the night.
Singer Andra Day and rapper-actor Common serenaded the crowd with their hit "Stand Up for Something" to wrap up the inspirational evening.
"This is emotionally taxing," joked comedian Jim Gaffigan. (Click to Continue)
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Advocate for disabled workers is 2017 CNN Hero of the Year