Federation Safe: Healing and the Transformation of Pain into Progress; The 2021 National Federation of the Blind Survivor Task Force 

ANIL LEWIS: It is one thing to host a podcast and provide information to individuals but the time we spent with the both of you, it was such a learning experience for me.  It helped me adopt a whole different paradigm.  I hope you don't mind if I share this.  But I was so moved by some of the comments that I actually called Daphne after the podcast.  I appreciate you sharing on a personal level.  I think that's the only way people can understand.  Just looking at this issue on the periphery, there is no way to internalize a lot of it.  The word "trauma" has a whole different meaning to me now.  I appreciate you guys sharing with us.

DAPHNE MITCHELL: Anil, I appreciate you making that phone call to me.  You could see my emergent need for a little bit of human contact.  I appreciate the step for reaching out.

ANIL LEWIS: You're thanking me for doing something purely selfish to get some closure and I ended up getting more than I had anticipated.  I just appreciate you guys and your candor and your openness.  That's the only way we'll move this forward.  Like so many things, we've been talking over this past year about the uncomfortable conversations.  But we've got to start having the uncomfortable conversations because no one really learns anything when you have the superficial how ya doin'?  I'm great.  You don't move the needle that way.

MARCI CARPENTER: Or if it is abstract, defining terms that, kind of thing. It is the personal stories.

MELISSA RICCOBONO: We're talking about the survivor's task force.  We're talking with Daphne and Marci.  Two things real quick then back to you guys.  First thing is NFB.org/publications and look for Nation’s Blind Podcast.  If you want more information about what the organization is doing.  NFB.org/survivors.  This is a content warning.  We'll be talking about the work of the survivor's task force.  There is a need for work to be done in this area.  If this is a topic uncomfortable for you, we appreciate if you need to leave.  We understand.  And just join us at 6:30. Know that this evening is going to be a tough night because the task force is going to be giving a report, the special committee will be giving a report.  Just be aware of that as you're looking at your agenda so you can make the choices best for you.  Daphne and Marci, do you want to talk about your work?

ANIL LEWIS: What's the task force?  How does it work?  Share with our listeners?

DAPHNE MITCHELL: So there are six of us who were appointed to the survivor's task force by President Riccobono back in late December, early January and our members are Sarah Meyer of Indiana, Cheryl Fields of Ohio, Briley O'Connor from Minnesota, Marci Carpenter, my esteemed friend from Washington State and Kathryn Webster from Virginia and myself from the great state of New Mexico.  I'll toss it to Marci to talk about what we did.

MARCI CARPENTER: Sure.  So we've been busy the last few months.

MELISSA RICCOBONO: I think that's an understatement but we'll go with "busy."

MARCI CARPENTER: One of the things I valued so much from the last few months is just all the wonderful women and men I have gotten to know and who have helped us in this process.  There are hundreds of members of the federation who have been involved in our work the last few months.  It hasn't just been the six of us. We've held open calls.  We've spoken at chapter and division affiliate meetings.  We have provided blogs for the National Federation of the Blind blog. We took feedback on the code of conduct and developed the Q&A document for the code.  And worked with our partners at RAINN on the trainings and on the climate survey and are now getting the results back from all of that.  I'll toss it back to you, Daphne.

DAPHNE MITCHELL: I'm here.  Sorry.  My lovely little dog was barking so I needed to mute myself.

ANIL LEWIS: Dogs, babies.

MELISSA RICCOBONO: What's the dog's name?

DAPHNE MITCHELL: His name is Bailey and he's a terrier mix.  He is to help me with mental health things that I deal with as part of being a survivor.  He's my loving companion.

ANIL LEWIS: Very appropriate.

MELISSA RICCOBONO: He wanted to say busy?  My mom's been super busy! 

ANIL LEWIS: Busy is one thing but the content and the subject matter, it's got to be very    I don't want to put    how have you been holding up?

MELISSA RICCOBONO: Has it been healing to help and make a difference?  How has that felt?

DAPHNE MITCHELL: Certainly there have been lots of healing moments along the way.  There have been moments that have helped each of us feel more empowered even as survivors as we work with other survivors as they share their stories with us as we potentially provide support or advocacy services to someone as they're filing a code of conduct report to help bring some resolution to their specific incident of misconduct. I think that each of us are in various stages of healing.  We all have different practices that help us to remain grounded.  But if we're being transparent, there were some rough moments.
MELISSA RICCOBONO: That would have meant you weren't human.

ANIL LEWIS: It is a serious issue.

DAPHNE MITCHELL: Exactly.  So we were provided or offered supports from the organization was willing to pay for and different things of that nature.  To help us to work through challenges.

MELISSA RICCOBONO: I'm really glad to hear that.  Let's back up real quickly and talk about RAINN.  We're partnered with RAINN and we know they have a phone number and we talk about what people can do if they've experienced any kind of assault and would like some help.  RAINN is one place they can get some help and resource.

ANIL LEWIS: You should have said do you have it, Melissa?

ANIL LEWIS: Go to NFB.org/survivor.

MELISSA RICCOBONO: The last numbers are RAINN.  I just can't remember the first two.

MARCI CARPENTER: Hope.  And RAINN has a couple of options when people call.

DAPHNE MITCHELL: 1 800 656 HOPE.  (4673).

MELISSA RICCOBONO: That was helpful.

ANIL LEWIS: I love listening to Melissa dial in her head.

MELISSA RICCOBONO: I was dialing in my head.

MARCI CARPENTER: There are a couple of options when you call that phone number.  You can press a button to be connected with your local sexual assault hotline or you can stay on the line and talk with someone at RAINN headquarters in D.C.  And they also have online chat options.

MELISSA RICCOBONO: That's really good to know.  And if somebody has experienced something in the National Federation of the Blind, we're still taking complaints, correct?  Code of conduct violation complaints.  If we don't know that things have happened, we can't offer support and we can't offer healing.  So maybe talk a little bit about that process.

ANIL LEWIS: I just want to expound on that.  I thought it was powerful the fact that we said bring them to us.  There's no time limit.  Just created an open space for people to come and try to address it. Some of the candid conversations I've had with friends I've known for years that in this particular place felt comfortable, some of them, years and years ago.  Trauma has a new definition for me now.

MARCI CARPENTER: Yes.  I think opening up the time window has helped in people's healings.  I've had conversations with folks also.  People can file a code of conduct report and they can do that by emailing [email protected] and they can fill out an online form or they can call the National Center and there is a phone line whose extension I can't remember.  I should have had all of these phone numbers with me.

MELISSA RICCOBONO: They can email the task force, too?  [email protected].

MARCI CARPENTER: That's correct. 

MELISSA RICCOBONO: [email protected] or NFB.org/survivors. 

MARCI CARPENTER: That's the web page.  That will get folks to all of the information.  And we can help you understand what the process is like.  We have our third party investigator Tonya.  We hosted an open call with her a couple of months ago.

ANIL LEWIS: She's amazing.

MELISSA RICCOBONO: Amazing woman.  I have nothing but respect for her.  She's a really good lady.

MARCI CARPENTER: I do, too.  Her integrity, her empathy and her thoroughness.

ANIL LEWIS: I had an opportunity to step in for a little while, I wish I could stay longer but we have the training that was taking place between the two sessions.  I think that that's really powerful that we're providing a way to really empower the survivors with some degree of training that may help them in the future.  The part I did hear, they were talking about healing.  And that's something that I thought was very important, too.  That brings me back to what Daphne was sharing at the podcast. This is so deep.  I'm sorry.  I'm not providing any information.

DAPHNE MITCHELL: I did want to share one other thing.  The task force carried out a lot of its work through different branches and Marci and I happened to lead up the communications and engagement branch. Two of our members who don't mind us publicly identifying them, Rachel Brighter and Sarah actually developed a playlist on YouTube called listening together.  And folks can look for that playlist under listening together on YouTube.  And individuals who are harmed, whether    no matter where they are on their journey to dealing with the aftermath of being harmed, they can share songs to that playlist so that other people who are survivors or victims may benefit as well.
Music has played an important part in my life and I feel it has healing powers or soothing powers.  I encourage folks to check out listening together on YouTube.  They also have the hashtag listing together on various platforms.

MELISSA RICCOBONO: That's great.  We have about five minutes left.  I would love to get any last thoughts you two have.  We appreciate you being a part of the show with us.  The song you're going to be hearing to get us into general session is "count on me" which is performed by some members of our performing arts division.  And Anil and I were listening to it before we started and it's a beautiful song and a beautiful message.  And very appropriate for this moment.  Absolutely.

ANIL LEWIS: If I go to YouTube and search for listening together, I can find this playlist? 

DAPHNE MITCHELL: Yes, you should be able to find the playlist.

ANIL LEWIS: I'm going to check that out.

MELISSA RICCOBONO: I may have seen it somewhere but there's so much that crosses   

ANIL LEWIS: I'm surprised Melissa didn't cosign because she's a believer that music heals.

MELISSA RICCOBONO: I think music is the best.

MARCI CARPENTER: Very healing.

MELISSA RICCOBONO: I do have a desire to be present with people and help them be present with one another through music.  Yeah, had I known that was going on    I'll have to look.  Maybe I can add something to the list.

MARCI CARPENTER: I'll bet you can.  The work that we did in our three branches, the communication and engagement, the training and culture and the procedures and oversight branches, like said, involved so many survivors and members of the federation.

DAPHNE MITCHELL: And non members as well.


MARCI CARPENTER: And really contributed to the recommendations that we will be making.

MELISSA RICCOBONO: Fantastic.  Thank you guys so much for being with us.  I want to say something more than thank you so much.  Maybe thank you immensely for all of the work that you guys have done over the past few months.
Thank you for being willing to do the work but also thank you    thank you for sharing yourselves and your stories with other people, for being support to others.

ANIL LEWIS: And allow yourselves to be vulnerable publicly.

MELISSA RICCOBONO: Thank you for taking care of yourselves and knowing the things that you need so this work doesn't just tear you down.  It is such important work and we really appreciate it.  We don't want it to tear people apart.  You're an example of how sharing can help in the healing process.  Thank you for doing this work and opening yourselves up.  And showing other people by this example.  Although healing looks different for everybody, healing is possible.  Sometimes speaking up is a really good way to help heal.  Thank you, guys.

ANIL LEWIS: The thing for me that's been helpful to understand because prior I felt it was inadequate.  Knowing that, saying I hear you, I believe you and it is not your fault is powerful to me now.  And I'm trying to be much more aware of that and as Melissa was saying, I'm trying to be much more present in those conversations and create an opportunity for people to feel safe and share.  I thank you both for that.

DAPHNE MITCHELL: Thank you.  Thank you both of you.