Braille Monitor August/September 2008
At well before 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning, July 2, more than a thousand Federationists began assembling in the parking lot outside the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas, for our second annual March for Independence. Designated affiliate representatives picked up state signs from waiting volunteers while other marching teams and delegations found one another and hoisted homemade banners in anticipation of the 5K round-trip walk from the NFB convention headquarters hotel to the AT&T Victory Plaza at the American Airlines Center. Bedecked in March for Independence T-shirts and caps--premiums awarded for raising different levels of money for the Imagination Fund—Federationists were easily identifiable as a uniformed and united mass of humanity. As the march commenced, everybody who wanted one was given a straw cowboy hat as protection from the rays of the rising Dallas sun.
NFB President Marc Maurer; Congressman Pete Sessions, honorary March chairperson; Mary Ellen Jernigan, chairwoman of convention organization and activities; Kevan Worley, chairperson of the NFB Imagination Fund; Tommy Craig, president of the NFB of Texas; and other local dignitaries led the spirited throng along the march route. The persistent chants of NFB of Georgia President Anil Lewis and his ten-year-old son Amari, broadcasting encouragement to the crowd on a portable public address system, urged the crowd forward. In an effort to improve communications among marchers this year, several sound repeaters were strategically placed among the marchers. Proclaiming the independence and capacity of blind people by sign and sound alike, Federationists enjoyed one another’s company as they filed into Victory Plaza--serenaded by a jazzed-up version of Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”--for the midmarch rally.
Meanwhile volunteers and NFB staff provided behind-the-scenes support for the March and the marchers. Golf carts circulated along the route to provide a respite for tired walkers. Buses provided alternative transportation for those unable to march but determined to participate in this convention highlight. Bottled water, Red Bull, and energy bars were on hand to provide some sustenance to the early morning marchers.
Kevan Worley served again this year as the master of ceremonies for the March rally. He reviewed the purposes of the Imagination Fund and explained that the March for Independence—A Walk for Opportunity was the culminating fundraising event for this campaign. Kevan explained that a priority focus of the Imagination Fund this year would be support of the Braille Readers Are Leaders National Literacy Campaign that will celebrate the life and legacy of Louis Braille through the distribution of the commemorative Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar.
To begin the program, Kevan introduced Jessica Bachicha, a gifted vocalist and active Federationist, who performed a rousing a cappella rendition of the national anthem, which filled the Victory Plaza. Kevan took a few moments to recognize March sponsor representatives from Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club. He then introduced and played a new Imagine video, produced by the NFB to promote the Imagination Fund. Federationists may view this new marketing product on the NFB Website at <http://www.nfb.org>.
President Maurer next delivered an address to the assembled marchers that explained to all who listened why we had come and why we will continue to do the work of the Federation. The text of his remarks follows:
We have come to Dallas, Texas, this July morning to participate in this national March for Independence--A Walk for Opportunity. Who are we, and why do we come? We are the blind of the nation organized in the National Federation of the Blind; we are the most powerful force in America dealing with blindness. We are blind factory workers, blind professionals, blind parents, the parents of blind children and the children themselves, blind musicians, blind office employees, blind rehabilitation workers, blind people receiving rehabilitation training, blind people seeking employment, blind people searching for opportunity, blind teachers, and blind students—we are the blind who have come to transform the nature of blindness through common effort and a dedicated spirit. Seventy percent of us are unemployed, but not because we can't work and not because we won't.
Our experience demonstrates that we face obstacles to our progress greater than almost anybody else in society. These are not obstacles created by our blindness (though some of these do exist) but by the misunderstanding of our blindness—by the failure of those who have not been able to accept us for the talented, vibrant human beings that we are. Because of this misunderstanding, because of this failure to comprehend, not only must we constantly find methods to perform without sight those activities that others conduct with it, but we must fight for the right to do so. We must fight for education; we must fight for employment; we must fight for the tools of learning; we must even fight to learn to read.
There is irony in this. We who want to learn had to become well-enough educated to advocate for the passage of a law that said we had a right to Braille books. Why is it so hard for certain public officials to understand that we want something to read and that we want it in Braille? Surely this is not a complicated request; surely this is not beyond the capacity of people in the Department of Education to comprehend; surely a need of such simplicity should not have demanded legislative action. However, when it became apparent to us that our first effort to require Braille literacy had failed, a second law became necessary. Today blind children in elementary and high school are to get their books in a form usable by the blind at the same time that sighted students get theirs. This is not simply a good idea; it is the law. And yet, despite the adoption of this legislation, the books are not there. Blind children are not getting them. Our blind children are being denied an education; our blind children are being told that they will have no future. And this is not all. It is simply one of the elements of deprivation that we face.
Why are we here? I can think of a thousand reasons—or ten thousand or a hundred thousand, and more than a thousand of them are here today. We will not be kept in ignorance; we will not be cut out of the mainstream of American life; we will not be cast aside; we will not accept the assertion that our rights are less forceful than those of others; we will not accept the proposition that we cannot participate fully in the lives of our communities. We have faced deprivation because of our blindness—a deprivation derived from the failure to comprehend the talent we have and the people we are. We have faced challenges to our fundamental right to form families and raise our children. We have faced the intimidation of those who would take from us the opportunity to run businesses. We have faced the challenges of getting the basic documents to learn in elementary school, in high school, and in the halls of academia. We have faced the denial of an opportunity for work with all of the attendant diminution of possibility that comes with no job—no chance to use our talent.
We have walked this morning to this place. This walk is a public demonstration that we have energy and will and commitment. Along with all other Americans, we have the right to exercise this will, and nobody can keep us from it. For those who want us to give our children to others, we say, no! For those who want us to be in ignorance, we say, never! For those who want us to remain in idleness, we say, it cannot happen, for we are organized, and we will take action to attain literacy. Not later, but now; not in some distant day, but before the sun shall set. Not for somebody else , but for us and for those who come after us. This is the meaning of the March for Independence; this is what will arise from our actions today; this is the determination of the National Federation of the Blind!
Four Federation youth--Jordan Richardson, Marché Daughtry, Vejas Vasiliauskas, and Hannah Weatherd--then asked President Maurer to be recognized to present a resolution affirming the importance of the role of both Braille and the National Federation of the Blind in gaining literacy, education, and employment for their generation. They captivated and charmed the March audience as they took turns reading their resolution in Braille. The text of this ceremonial resolution informally adopted by March participants follows:
WHEREAS, of the nearly fifty thousand school-aged blind children in America today, only 10 percent are able to read Braille and fewer than half will graduate from high school; and
WHEREAS, blind people who read Braille are likely to become employed while blind people who cannot read Braille have a 70 percent chance of being unemployed and living in poverty; and
WHEREAS, blind Americans owe a debt of gratitude to the members of the United States Congress for authorizing the striking of a coin commemorating the two-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille and directing that funds from the sale of the coin go to the National Federation of the Blind to develop and implement effective programs to increase Braille literacy among blind children and adults: Now, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED that we will be literate, able to read and write Braille, because of the efforts of the thousands of men and women of the National Federation of the Blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we will earn our high school diplomas and be able to go on to pursue advanced degrees because of the efforts of the thousands of men and women of the National Federation of the Blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we will be employed, pursuing challenging careers, because of the efforts of the thousands of men and women of the National Federation of the Blind.
Honorary March Chairperson Representative Pete Sessions of Texas next addressed the gathered marchers. His brief remarks resonated with the multitude present, and his second appearance before the entire NFB convention later in the afternoon reached inspirational heights, when he acknowledged our organizational spirit and influence, prodding us to carry on with our mission.
The design of the commemorative Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar was unveiled at the March rally. U.S. Mint Director Ed Moy conducted the official unveiling and public presentation of the coin’s design. The commemorative dollar will be available for purchase in the spring of 2009. Braille Monitor readers should look for further details about purchasing the coin in future issues of the magazine. Director Moy invited President Maurer and Congressman Sessions to help him unveil the obverse (the front) and the reverse (the back) of the coin. Below is the detailed description of the Louis Braille coin that Director Moy delivered to the rally audience:
The coin obverse, or heads side of the coin, features a handsome image of Louis Braille from the neck up, facing forward. This image captures him as the energetic, confident, and successful young man he was, and the image fills the center of the coin. He is wearing a jacket and collar in the style of the early eighteen hundreds, and his hair is fashionably wavy.
The coin also bears the inscription “Liberty” along the curve of the coin above his head and the words “Louis Braille” underneath his portrait. “In God We Trust” is inscribed to the right of Braille’s image at cheek level. The date “1809” appears on the left, and “2009” appears on the right, both at collar height.
On the coin reverse the most prominent image is a boy who looks to be about eight or nine sitting at a table reading a book in Braille. He is wearing a T-shirt and has the top of a cane resting on his left arm. The word “Braille” in Braille code—abbreviated B-R-L as it is in Braille code—is produced on the upper half of the coin. The spacing of the letters ensures that the text is no different from printed or written Braille to the touch.
On the left in the background, the word “Independence” is written along the top of a bookshelf full of books. The inscription “United States of America” is at the top of the curve of the coin, “One Dollar” is at the bottom, and “E Pluribus Unum” is to the right of the seated child reading Braille.
As the enthusiastic crowd chanted “Braille” in unison, Director Moy had President Maurer confirm that the Braille on the newly designed coin was legible. It was.
As the rally concluded, Kevan announced the launch of <http://www.braille.org>, the official Website for the Braille Readers Are Leaders National Braille Literacy campaign. Kevan explained that all of the information about the coin and the Braille initiatives of the National Federation of the Blind could soon be found at this one-stop Website. While the dignitaries left the platform, Kevan Worley and NFB Treasurer Pam Allen read aloud the names of the 101 gold medallion March fundraisers, those who raised one thousand dollars or more for the Imagination Fund.
Marchers streamed out of Victory Plaza en route back to the hotel for the start of the first general session of the convention. Voices, signs, and moods remained high for the balance of the 2008 March for Independence—A Walk for Opportunity. Our hopeful and optimistic message of the morning was carried by both local and national media to thousands around the nation. The brief article that appeared in The Dallas Morning News on Thursday, July 3, was representative of the coverage this event garnered. The text of the article follows:
1,000 Blind People and Supporters March through Dallas
by Dan X. McGraw
Adam Rushfort's white cane tapped against the pavement outside the American Airlines Center this morning as he navigated the street with other blind men and women from across the country. Though the twenty-eight-year-old Utah man couldn't see the crowd, he certainly could hear it. And he hopes others did as well. "This is about independence," Mr. Rushfort said, "independence for blind people in both literacy and job opportunities. We want to be heard."
Nearly 1,000 blind people and supporters cheered and sang as they marched more than a mile from the Hilton Anatole Hotel on Stemmons Freeway to Victory Plaza in hopes of raising awareness of their needs in a march sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind. Several officials, including Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, spoke about the need to improve education about blindness, increase accessibility to jobs, and teach all blind children to read Braille.
About 10 percent of blind children are taught Braille in schools, and many have limited access to audiobooks to expand their education, said Dr. Marc Maurer, the Federation's president. The lack of materials leaves many blind people without the same opportunities as sighted people and an estimated 70 percent of them without jobs, Mr. Maurer said. The Federation's goal is to work for equality. "The books are not there," Mr. Maurer said. "Our blind are told that they will have no future. That is unacceptable."
During a ceremony after the march, U.S. Mint Director Ed Moy unveiled the design of the 2009 Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar, the first U.S. coin to feature readable Braille. The coin will be sold in spring 2009, and the Federation will receive $10 for every silver dollar purchased, Mr. Moy said. "It reads—with a capital B—Braille," Mr. Maurer told the crowd as people erupted in cheers.