On Our 78th Birthday, Celebrating 78 Years of Stories
Mark A. Riccobono is the President of the National Federation of the Blind.
Today begins the seventy-ninth year for the National Federation of the Blind. During the past six weeks I have worked with blind people from at least a dozen states—having traveled to four of them—and have gained insight from visiting with blind people in two foreign countries. While this six weeks was more travel-intensive than most periods, the fact that I spent time with a diversity of blind people is not unusual. That is what I am expected to do as President of the National Federation of the Blind. I spend a lot of time listening to blind people, synthesizing their hopes and dreams, and helping to craft systemic strategies that we can use as a movement to make progress. If you are not familiar with the progress of the movement, I invite you to read Building the Lives We Want, published for the seventy-fifth anniversary of the organization.
This morning I was reflecting upon the thousands of stories that make up this great movement of individuals. So often individuals get focused on their personal story and their own perspective. Do not get me wrong, I think knowing, owning, and sharing your story is very valuable. However, I was wondering this morning about how often people miss the value in understanding the common bonds in other people’s stories. What I have found through my active participation in the National Federation of the Blind is that I can improve and understand myself by understanding the stories of others.
I never knew another blind person until I reached high school. By that time, I had formed an opinion about the prospects of living with vision loss, and it was not a positive outlook. There was so much I did not know, but, because I could see a little bit, I figured I did not have something to learn from the blind people I met. I learned later that was a real mistake. When I started to listen to the stories of blind people, I started to find myself in their experiences. It taught me I was not alone and that others had figured some things out already. Eventually I started to learn enough that I could share some of my own story and maybe teach something to others. What I had not expected was that the cycle would only accelerate. When I thought I was teaching, I learned even more about my strengths and my need to improve. I learned about my successes and about my mistakes and how they shaped who I am. I also learned how my reaction to situations impacted those who heard the stories of what I did when I faced discrimination or dealt with low expectations.
As I reflect upon the movement I am honored to be elected to lead, I recognize that the real joy is getting lost in the stories of the movement. The thousands of individuals—some visible leaders but many behind the scenes supporters—that make every moment count. There are never enough hours in a day, dollars in the treasury, or committed hands available to share the work. Yet there are always more stories to share. The beauty comes in weaving those stories into a fabric that changes lives every day.
I approach my work each day asking what can I do for the members of the Federation today. As I think about it, I learn a new story about the blind of this nation each and every day and that informs what I do. Please continue to share your voice and help to shape this tremendous movement. In order to celebrate the seventy-eight years of stories, take a moment to share a piece of yours. Together, with love, hope, and determination, we will continue to transform dreams into reality.
With deepest gratitude for those who have come before me in the National Federation of the Blind and the generations that will depend on the actions we take today, thank you.