Braille Monitor                                                                                                           December 2004

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My Convention Treasures

by Caroline Rounds

Caroline Rounds
Caroline Rounds

From the Editor: The preceding article captures the excitement of attending the NFB annual convention for the first time. The following reflection expresses the pleasures more experienced Federationists find at a convention. Caroline Rounds is the second vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of California. The following recollection appeared in the Spring/Summer 2004 edition of the NFBC Journal, the publication of the NFB of California. This is what she says:

Those of us who have attended national conventions before feel a growing excitement and anticipation as the time gets closer. If it is to be in a new location, I worry a little about getting out of the airport or how the city is laid out or what the weather will be like. If it is in a repeat location, I pull out memories of the hotel and my favorite restaurants and make plans for taking the tour I missed the last time. There are automatic assumptions‑-good speeches, renewing friendships, staying up way too late, and reconfirming my commitment to the movement.

All this accompanied my trip to Atlanta as I made my way to the 2004 convention. But this year's convention held some new surprises and memories, like over 2,500 folks to get to know. The people were particularly delightful and inspiring for me this year. As I explored the new and revisited the familiar, I found myself focusing on the people I met throughout convention. I enjoyed sharing discoveries with several of them.

I had never met my roommate before. She was half my age, and this was her first convention. I delighted as I watched her discover the freedom that comes in trying out skills she had never practiced before. She bravely wandered downstairs the first night to locate the restaurant. I saw her discover her limitations in Braille reading when she tried to make sense of the agenda. She commented that she just had to get better at it.

While presenting at the National Organization of Blind Educators, I listened to group discussions as potential teachers discovered the mentoring power of this organization. While in an elevator, I listened as people discovered that, even though they were from different states, they had things in common worth talking about over dinner. As I interacted with people I met in various convention spots, I appreciated the wealth of life experience and talent offered by the members of this organization. After enjoying half an hour of original music and good conversation with the composer and musician, I bought his CD. While waiting in the registration line, I met a man who had designed a unique step‑by‑step curriculum for teaching Braille to the newly blind. I realized his method was clever and sensible. When I shared my delight, he promised to provide me with a copy.

Two specific encounters stand out to me because they represent the humanness of the NFB. First, I met a scholarship winner who had been blinded seven years ago during a fraternity hazing ceremony. He had courageously dealt with his anger, bitterness, and helplessness. Now he was pursuing a new future. As we sat together during Dr. Maurer's presidential address, I watched as his passion for changing what it means to be blind was born. He asked, "Where have you guys been all my life?"

Over dinner one evening I continued a conversation with a man I had met earlier at the National Organization of Blind Educators meeting. He was losing his sight gradually. Just recently his employer had informed him that his teaching contract would not be renewed. He seemed depressed and resigned to the possibility of changing his career. I was able to help him identify his rights as a tenured teacher. Together we talked through a game plan for securing his position and acquiring the skills of blindness he must master. I realized that I had been able to offer my life experience to someone else.

The 2004 Atlanta convention was typically characterized with brilliant speeches, fascinating exhibits, late evenings, and renewed purpose. But it's the people-‑all of them together as a roaring group or in pairs engaged in quiet conversation‑-that are truly the riches to be brought home from convention. This year my suitcase was particularly full.

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