Finding My Way to Equality: Coming ‘Home’ to the Federation
By Linda Melendez
As long as I can remember, I’ve never quite fit in with the intersecting communities in my life. Although I’m of Puerto Rican descent and my full name is very much Latin, I’m white-passing so the Latinx community didn’t accept me. Meanwhile, my fair skin, freckles, and red hair didn’t get me very far within the white community. They kept me at arm’s length because of my name and accent. Needless to say, I had to fight for equality within these spaces.
When my son Logan was six years old, I attended my first National Federation of the Blind of New Jersey convention on my own. The following year, Logan came with me and though I enjoyed myself at both conventions, it wasn’t until my son was nineteen that I really became an active member; Logan’s encouragement and belief that I needed the Federation in my life convinced me to join. By this time in my life, I had experienced discrimination and exclusion because of my race, being a single mother and my blindness. I came in to the NFB hoping that I would find a place where I fit in.
We fight tirelessly as an organization for equality in areas from education to legislation, employment to health care and so much more. I have never felt as though I had to fight for equality within the Federation family. As a newer member of the organization, Joe Ruffalo took me under his wing and through his mentorship, I have felt empowered to push for equality for all blind people. I’m honored to be leading the charge here in New Jersey as affiliate president. 2020 was my first year in this position and I advocated for the rights of blind parents before the state judicial committee. The expectation is for the bill to be signed in to law before our next National Convention. I’m also proud to say that to date, 2/3 of our representatives have signed on to the Access Technology Affordability Act (ATAA), another piece of legislation that gives blind people equal footing in society.
When I attended my first National Convention, President Riccobono said something that really sealed the deal for me. During the Rookie Roundup, he said to new members, “welcome home.” Those words truly changed my life. For the first time, I felt that I truly belonged. I felt accepted and equal to everyone else within the movement. All of the things that kept me from full and equal participation within my community are now strengths that I use in the Federation. I like to think of myself as “Abuela [Grandma] President”. I am teaching my two-year-old grandson, Lucas Matthew to see people as equals no matter our background. I proudly pay membership dues for Lucas every year and will do so until he’s eighteen. My hope is that he is inspired to lead his generation to the place where equality for all is the rule, not the exception.