The Braille Monitor November, 2003
My Second National Convention and I Am Still Growing
by Katrilla H. Martin
From the Editor: The following article appeared in the summer 2003 issue of the Vigilant, the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia. Katrilla Martin has been a member of the NFB for only a short time. However, she has incorporated the positive philosophy of the Federation into her own and her family's life. Now read about her experiences at her second convention, where she was an NFB scholarship winner.
In October of 2001 I went to my first NFB chapter meeting. It was in Fredericksburg (the chapter was only a month old when I became a member). Blind people in Fredericksburg decided it was time for them to become visible as an integral part of the small, conservative, family-friendly community. One year later the new chapter's twenty core members demonstrated our potential by hosting the NFB of Virginia's 2002 state convention in our city. What a wonderful way to celebrate our chapter's first year.
I hold the Virginia affiliate in high regard. Our state officers demonstrate effective leadership through their dedicated effort, whether it's traveling several hundred miles to attend a chapter function or meeting a financial need so that everyone who would like to attend a convention can do so. I deeply appreciate their leadership.
Not only are the state officers extraordinary, but the NFBV members are themselves changing what it means to be blind by doing what they can to impart Federation philosophy to loved ones, co-workers, colleagues, state agencies, and other blind Virginians. Because of one of those members, Robert (Mac) McDonald, who established a fellowship program, I had the opportunity to attend the 2002 NFB national convention.
It was my first national convention, and to say the very least, I was overwhelmed! My family and I drove twelve hours from Fredericksburg to Louisville. It was a beautiful drive through the mountain country of West Virginia.
Once we checked in at the Hyatt Regency, we immediately went to the Galt House to register. We visited the exhibit hall, the Sensory Safari, and the hotel's restaurant before heading back to our room at the Hyatt. Nearly every day, we followed the same pattern of activities and meetings. I would rise, dress, eat, and head to the Galt House for sessions. My husband and son would meet me for lunch, and we would all attend the afternoon activities. Most evenings I skipped dinner because I wanted to attend every session possible. From the National Association of Blind Students (NABS) meeting to the NFB-NEWSLINE demonstrations, I was there.
That week I never met an unfriendly soul; I felt the love of my new NFB family. On the drive home I remember feeling newly empowered, as if I bore the letters "NFB" on my chest. At that convention I had felt like a member of a majority, and I didn't feel embarrassed when my cane tapped the foot of a sighted person. That new confidence took me well into the next summer when I attended my second convention.
Oh yeah, I was hooked. Although my second national convention was held in the same city as my first, my experiences at the 2003 convention as a national scholarship winner were very different. Yet the spirit of the Federation remained positive and upbeat. No long hours of giving directions from the passenger seat of our car--this time we flew to Kentucky. It was the first time flying for my son and husband. I was reminded how much we still have to do to educate airline employees. The flight attendant told my son and husband to make sure they mask themselves first before helping the blind invalid. How surprised that crew member was when I informed her that they would most likely need my assistance since it was my umpteenth time flying, and I was certified in CPR, first aid, and public emergency. My school, Mary Washington College, requires certification in these skills.
At this convention I vowed that I would pace myself. I focused on attending division meetings, the state caucus, and convention sessions--all of which related to my new status as a national scholarship winner. I didn't attend as many meetings as I had the previous year, but I did pace myself and seemed to get more out of each session. At the general sessions I was unable to yell from my home state; however, I was able to do so from five other states while I followed my scholarship mentors. As a scholarship winner I was assigned a daily mentor and sat with that mentor's delegation that day. It was great to get to know Federationists from New York, New Jersey, California, Hawaii, Maryland, and Texas, but I missed sitting with my fellow Virginians.
Highlights from this convention included the close bonding of the 2003 national scholarship winners, the banquet address, the interplay and jests between Dr. Maurer and Door Prize Diane, the confidence behind our logo, Whozit, and the realization that I am a living example of the NFB message the symbol embodies.
On Friday, July 4, at 5:00 p.m. the convention ended too abruptly for me. On the flight home I began to make my own resolutions. To begin with, I will become more involved in my state's student division, distribute more NFB literature whenever the opportunity arises, and enroll in an NFB-affiliated center to gain proper training.
My experience in Louisville was a fun-filled learning opportunity times two. Louisville will always be special to me because of that. As I lie in my bed wondering what is in store in HOT-lanta in 2004, I fall asleep with two conventions under my belt and memories of both echoing in my head. I can still hear the phrases: "Excuse me, I didn't mean to step on your dog. What state are you from?" "Get your Iowa scissors!" "Which way to the general session?" "We won't quit!" "Now, Mr. Gashel, he said that he would consider it." "Get your Jernigan raffle tickets!" "How about a door prize, Diane?" "Katrilla Martin, Virginia, Virginia." "Get on the PAC Plan."