PHOTO/CAPTION: Brook Sexton
Convention: A Pilgrim's Journey
by Brook Sexton
From the Editor: Brook Sexton is a 1996 NFB scholarship winner. She currently serves as President of the Utah Association of Blind Students. She is a junior at Brigham Young University, where she majors in human development. The convention bulletin for the 2000 gathering in Atlanta will appear in the December issue. Brook's little essay should whet everybody's appetite for the information about how to make plans to be part of this wonderful experience. This is what she says:
The Pilgrims who came to America on the Mayflower in 1620 suffered many afflictions. Two passengers died on the voyage, and half of those who landed died during the first winter. Playing a critical role in the success of the first real colony, the Wampanaog Indians saved the remainder of the Pilgrims. These Europeans needed to find food and learn to survive in an unknown wilderness, a very different world from their lives in England. Today the spiritual descendants of those humble people still engage in the struggle for success, freedom, and happiness. The conventions of the National Federation of the Blind forge the same fortitude and self-reliance learned by the Pilgrims.
This year's convention was no exception. I watched a mock trial and participated in a humbling memorial service. In-depth conversations took place, and I heard creative ways to express old ideas. I applauded Mrs. Jernigan and recognized several honored individuals. The memorable banquet will linger in my mind for months, especially the lifted candles in memory of Dr. Jernigan. I also took strength from the exceptional words of our president, Dr. Maurer, reassuring and rededicating us all to the Federation.
As I face life's challenges in the future, I will cherish and take comfort in the sensitivity and love expressed. I will never forget my struggle to know my purpose and goals as a Federationist and the discoveries I made. The speeches provoked such thoughts--pricking my conscience, nudging me to take advantage of every opportunity.
I watched my younger brother soak up the speeches for the first time and begin the trek of accepting his blindness. My mother, also blind, sought education and taught parents of blind children. I met old friends and noted the transformation that has occurred through the years as they have learned and grown in the Federation's philosophy. Most important, I perceived conventioneers reap strength from each other and store it for the pilgrimages ahead. People talked and dreamed each other's dreams. By helping to pick up those without faith in themselves and give them a purpose in life, I partook of the Federation spirit. Dr. Jernigan's influence and accomplishments inspired me, and I will always remember the unveiling of the bronze bust of our beloved leader.
Like the pilgrims of Plymouth, I drank from the waters of power and unity. I experienced rejuvenation when I heard the great words of duty and necessity spoken to us at the banquet and in the Presidential Report; my work in the Federation resumes. I must take this tenacity home with me.
The students met, forever influencing and touching many new conventioneers. Traveling home, I spoke with one student who had experienced his first convention. I found hope in him that had not existed before. He spoke of creating a new chapter in his area and involving others. He told me he was grateful he had not finished school a year earlier, for he had met people who had changed the way he will live his life.
The pilgrims learned from the Wampanaog Indians how to survive in a harsh world. They received invitations to the Indian tables and developed friendships. Our leaders and the long-time members gave such a meal of Thanksgiving to the newcomers in Atlanta. I took on the role of Indian at my banquet table surrounded by eight pilgrims making the journey for the first time. I wanted to cry as I heard from them how they had learned and grown throughout the week. Their joy signifies the pinnacle of my convention journey.
Conventions offer courage, hope, and invigorating power. In turn, each conventioneer must bring home the knowledge discovered to those who could not attend the Atlanta convention. I hope to provide a feast for the blind people I meet at college and in the community. As convention energy dissipates, a gradual return to old customs and social pressures is all too likely to occur. We who attend conventions must not allow this to happen to us.
Someday I hope all blind people in our nation may make the pilgrim's journey to National Convention. New members will join our ranks as they learn the importance of attending conventions, of drawing from our pooled strength, and of beginning where others end their efforts. Their participation will lessen the weight of the challenge so that our struggle for success, freedom, and happiness will keep moving forward. We must contribute our efforts to help build the organization and open a new world of opportunity. Our goal is clearly set before us; we must not bicker or hesitate. We must build our new building and help each member reach a little higher, try a little harder, and together change what it means to be blind.