Braille Monitor                                                                                                 August/September 2004

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Federationists Feeling Peachy Keen in Atlanta

by Anil Lewis

Anil Lewis presents an award to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.   Virginia Everett, director, Information Services, accepts the plaque,
Anil Lewis presents an award to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Virginia Everett, director, Information Services, accepts the plaque.

From the Editor: Every convention boasts a few unsung heroes: the behind-the-scenes staff people who troubleshoot problems, the flexible attendees who make light of inconveniences, and the host-affiliate members who bend over backwards to make certain that visitors to their state have a memorable stay. Anil Lewis, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia, epitomizes this last group. He was everywhere during the convention, finding solutions, smoothing ruffled feathers, and spreading good humor and cheer. Always on the run, he was sometimes a minute or two behind schedule but eternally kind and thoughtful. He must be relieved to have the convention slipping into history, but you would never know that from reading the following report. Here is Anil’s backstage take on the convention:

It was indeed an honor to serve as the host affiliate for the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. We were determined to make the experience as enjoyable as our 1999 and 2000 conventions, and the members of the Georgia affiliate stepped up to provide the trimmings on an excellent convention, coordinated by the dedicated staff of our national office. I just want to take a little time to share with you some of the peripheral happenings of the convention from a very tired but well-pleased affiliate president.

My goal was to ensure that everyone had a good time by mingling as much as possible, answering questions, making people feel welcome, and solving problems. The beautiful part was that I had a team. Veteran Georgia affiliate members had worked hard to plan and worked harder to execute all the tasks necessary. Even our newest members worked to meet needs as they appeared. Moreover, longtime Federationists from around the country worked together to make the convention a success.

The crowd came in earlier and in larger numbers than we expected. The volunteers slated to work the Georgia information table had to be pulled away for other tasks. Members of the Sligo Creek chapter of the NFB of Maryland pitched in to staff the Georgia information table, helped to pass out preconvention agendas, and made conventioneers feel welcome. This willingness of Federationists to pitch in and help wherever needed set a tone of family and a spirit of cooperation which gave me comfort throughout the rest of the convention.

Planning the opening ceremony was a joy. Our goal was to make it inspiring and memorable. We hope that we accomplished this with the two drum groups, Conundrum and the Lyke House Drummers. The welcome from Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin was icing on the cake, and we greatly appreciated her altering her schedule so that she could attend. The presentation from our secretary of state, Cathy Cox, was a motivating end of a long first day of convention that demonstrated how important it is to build productive partnerships with our public officials. In short, convention week was filled with many memorable events and learning experiences.

The accommodations of the Marriott Marquis were excellent, and the staff was courteous and helpful. Our public transportation service, MARTA, supplied us with Braille schedules, extended route assistance, and quality service that gave conventioneers an opportunity to explore many parts of our wonderful city. 

The Georgia affiliate celebrated several milestones at this convention. Never before has Georgia placed as high as third in the ranking of registered attendants of the national convention. We hope that this is reflective of the growth our affiliate will experience in the near future. In addition, it was great to be able to celebrate the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as the one hundredth paper available on our NFB-NEWSLINE® service. We hope to build on this accomplishment as we seek to secure long-term funding in our upcoming legislative session.

The most important milestone for the Georgia affiliate was the participation of thirty blind high-school-age youth from the Center for the Visually Impaired’s Social Therapeutic and Recreational Services (STARS) program.  They spent all day with us on July 1 and were able to visit the exhibit hall, tour the convention hotel, and meet with blind leaders of the Federation.  Many Georgia Federationists serve as mentors for a number of these kids, and it was a landmark experience for them to attend the national convention. Many have already expressed their intention to join the National Federation of the Blind, and this fact gives us a tremendous boost in starting our student division in Georgia.

I was determined to be in the mix of convention activities as much as possible and took every opportunity to meet as many people as I could. While working the Georgia information table, I met a young man of about eight years old that read Braille with great proficiency and used his cane well. Seeing blind youth developing these skills so early in life fills me with hope and re-energizes my commitment to the goals of the Federation.

I demonstrated what I believe to be the advantages of the Braille watch over the talking watch to another Federationist. One of the largest benefits of convention is being able to share experiences with blind people from around the world. Sometimes time can be altered (or at least the watch hands can be accidentally moved) while giving a Braille watch demonstration; therefore I recommend that you check the time before and after the demonstration of your Braille watch. As a result of my demonstration, I was about ten minutes late for the board meeting—a rather embarrassing experience for the president of the host affiliate and a relatively new member of the NFB board of directors.

I rarely got a chance to visit the Georgia hospitality suite, except for late-night runs to replenish the food supply. The hospitality of Georgia affiliate members takes second place to none. Georgia affiliate members made sure that each visitor to the hospitality suite felt welcome and was given something to please the palate and quench his or her thirst.

The tours presented the greatest challenge to affiliate planners. Last-minute logistical problems left us with insufficient transportation for the Planetarium tour and required me to improvise a new Civil War tour. The makeshift alternative was enjoyable to some, but certainly not what people expected. On the positive side, if this problem had not manifested itself, I would not have been exposed to the other side of Federationism--the side exemplified by the graciousness of those who were disappointed, yet understanding. Federationists are truly able to turn lemons into lemonade, and some even enjoy lemons.

Of course there was the incident at Six Flags amusement park. It is frustrating that, although blind people have visited the park on many occasions with no problems, park security personnel waited until Atlanta had blind guests from around the world to forget everything they have been taught. Still, in the true spirit of the Federation, we even turned this into an opportunity to educate and promote the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind.

It takes a lot of work to put together such a momentous event, but everyone working together makes it look easy. I can truly say I have seen a completely different side of the convention and have gained a greater respect for our national staff. My only regret is that I missed a lot of the information offered by the convention presenters.  I can’t wait to read the Braille Monitor to see what happened at the convention. This Federationist is still feeling peachy keen in Atlanta and can’t wait to see you all back here again in 2007.

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