by Ronza Othman
From the Editor: By the time you are reading this, the 2009 Motor City March on the morning of July 6 will be history. At this writing, mid-May, we have no idea how much money will have been raised. We can be sure that well over a thousand people will have marched the three miles and enjoyed the camaraderie of shared endeavor and rousing presentations. In an effort to solicit contributions from friends and family many of us will have written letters inviting financial support. The following letter was one of these efforts. It was so effective and inspiring that we thought others might take heart and learn from it.
Ronza Othman has been a leader in the Chicago Chapter and the Illinois affiliate. She is a practicing attorney who recently took a prestigious job with the federal government and now lives in Baltimore. This is what she wrote to friends and family under the title “I Am Blind”:
Once upon a time those were three words I couldn't say. To be blind meant to be incapable, to be weak, to be flawed, to be broken. But I've learned that I was wrong. I am blind, and I am whole. I have potential, I have plans, and I need your help to help others find that they can say "I am blind" too.
I grew up using my limited vision to try to get along as though I was sighted. That meant I stumbled over curbs; now my cane tells me they're there so I can keep walking without breaking stride. I went to bed every night with a headache from the eye strain caused by trying to read regular print; now I read more quickly than my family members and well into the night using my talking software and Braille books. I was afraid to leave my house at night without someone to hold on to; now I come and go as I please (though Mom's still my boss and imposes curfews). I never traveled far from my house independently; this year alone I moved across the country to accept a new job, leaving behind my support system and everyone who ever guided me. Since I've learned independent mobility skills, I've traveled to Mexico, Hawaii, the United Kingdom, and the Caribbean, as well as throughout the United States both for work and pleasure.
What has changed? My attitude, my skills, my confidence, and as a result my life has changed. Why? Because the National Federation of the Blind found me. A few years ago I received an NFB scholarship. I went to a convention and met people who were blind (yes, even blinder than me), and I learned from them. They were doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, pharmacists, rehabilitation professionals, students, spouses, parents, travelers, pioneers. They had something I lacked—belief in their abilities and faith in the blind community. They helped me to accept my blindness, so I went from a "visually deficient" person to a blind one. That was the most liberating event of my life.
So I learned from them, gained from them, befriended them. Now they are my teachers, my family, and my inspiration. I found my mentor through this organization, and I have found my best friends. I found a place where I could fit in, no matter what. They attached the name of their organization to me all those years ago when they gave me money as proof they believed I could be a successful lawyer. They taught me, by example and through nagging, that, if I learned blindness skills like the use of the long white cane and Braille, I could be more efficient and effective. So I absorbed, I pondered, and eventually I accepted who I was and what I could do given the proper tools.
So you see, I am a government official because I was introduced to other government officials who serve our country with pride and effectiveness regardless of blindness. I have been a successful litigator because the NFB gave me a scholarship and taught me how it could be done. I am an independent traveler because someone put a cane in my hand and taught me to use it. I am a faster reader and a deeper thinker because someone taught me Braille. I am a stronger advocate because people advocated for me until I learned how to self-advocate. I am confident because I learned who I really was instead of who I was trying to be. I am happier because of the family that's adopted me.
Now I need your help. Thousands and thousands of people are out there in the world just as unenlightened as I used to be. I need you to help me march toward opportunity for them. I need you to support me as a marcher so that I can help change the life of someone too. I need you to help me pay it forward.
I will be marching on July 6, 2009, in Detroit, Michigan, along with thousands of blind and sighted people in the NFB's March for Independence—a Walk for Opportunity. I'm asking you to sponsor me in this event. Your money will help the organization that helped me in a thousand little ways and in many more big ways. Please support me in trying to pay the organization back by paying it forward. Thank you, friends, for your support in my journey. If you can't walk with me in person on July 6, please walk with me in spirit by supporting me financially.