Following the memorial service, Barbara Walker
reaches down to touch the roses on Dr. Jernigan's grave,
Making It Count
by Barbara Walker
From the Editor: Barbara Walker is President of the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. Here is the eloquent and moving tribute she paid to Dr. Jernigan at the December 5 memorial service:
Somewhere in our National Center for the Blind, I once helped to secure a nail. I don't know exactly where it is or even if, in the course of remodeling, it's still there. But the lessons of that nail will always be a part of the building of my life. My instructor was Dr. Kenneth Jernigan.
I believe the year was 1979. The occasion was a meeting of the American Brotherhood for the Blind, now the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. The place was an old run-down building at 1800 Johnson Street in Baltimore.
We gathered in an enormous, echo-y room, where we were given the opportunity to nail down a section of floor covering. Some on the Board eagerly accepted the hammer and nails Dr. Jernigan offered and went immediately to work.
As he handed me a nail (the biggest one I had ever seen), Dr. Jernigan quietly asked me if I had ever driven one. Embarrassed and a bit apprehensive, I said "No."
With irresistible enthusiasm he drew me into the process of building. Neither the nail itself nor the driving of it was insignificant to him. He showed me how to choose where to place it, taking into consideration its function and its proximity to other nails. He then invited me to observe the placement of his hands as he held the nail firmly upright while tapping it gently, saying that it was important not only to get it started straight but also to hold it steady until its direction was established and it was solidly grounded. After that, it was a matter of rhythm, coordination, and confirmation of the nail's position and progress. This he accomplished by touching the head of the nail between hammer strokes.
When he handed me the hammer, there was still room for the nail to bend if I hit it wrong, but it had a good straight start. My first taps were tentative. The nail didn't bend, but neither did it progress. Dr. Jernigan pointed out that, even if you're doing the right thing, if you do it without conviction, it's all for naught. "Make it count!" he urged. "Make it count!"
My next swing of the hammer was both true and convincing. The nail went deeper. When I hesitated between swings, Dr. Jernigan said the job would be done more quickly and with less chance of error if I just got into the rhythm and drove the nail home.
He was right. As I concentrated on the goal, bringing my whole self into synchronizing the components, most of my swings were productive, and the nail went down, resting at last flush with the flooring. When, upon completion, Dr. Jernigan voiced his approval, I felt at once proud of having made a small contribution to our building and awed by the impact of the wise counsel I had just received from this master builder.
As if reading my thoughts, Dr. Jernigan proclaimed, intermittently slapping a nearby pillar for emphasis, that each of us had now contributed to the structure of the National Center for the Blind. He hoped we felt proud of our investment and personally responsible for maintaining and improving upon it. I did and still do.
As I reflect on that moment with Dr. Jernigan, I recall many similar lessons in building within the context of Action Fund business. Mostly they have to do, not with nails, but with people's lives. For just as he took, more than once in his lifetime, shabby and dilapidated structures and dreamed them into grand and functional facilities, so too did he take broken and dispirited human beings and love them into independent and fulfilled people.
Dr. Jernigan taught us, in all we do, to be builders. Sometimes we build with intangibleshope, encouragement, or truth about blindness. Sometimes we build with thingsgrants, equipment, or books in Braille. But whatever the setting, whatever the tools, our job is, as it was for me the day I learned to drive a nail, to answer Dr. Jernigan's challenge and "make it count!"