From December 2 through December 4, 2011, twenty-four blind high school students from around the country attended an NFB Youth Leadership Academy in Baltimore. These weekend programs, another of which is planned for March of 2012, are organized and hosted by our Affiliate Action Department. They are designed to give the participants in-depth exposure to Federation philosophy and current programs, to introduce them to a network of blind adult role models, and to enable them to spend some time with other blind teenagers. Ten members from the 2011 Cohort of our Teacher of Tomorrow program also attended as observers so that they could learn about the experiences of the blind students and the ways in which Federation philosophy can help them at a young age.
On Friday evening President Maurer welcomed the students with some inspiring words about their place in the future of our movement. Jim Gashel then provided historical context, describing how much the organization has grown and what we have achieved since he joined more than forty years ago, and John Paré spoke about some of the advocacy and public education successes of the last five years. The Jernigan Institute Education Team then split the students up into five small groups and led them in a team-building activity. The evening concluded with each small group--affiliate--choosing a name and electing officers.
Saturday morning the five adult mentors told their own stories--describing how they dealt with their own blindness as children or when they lost vision later in life and giving the students advice on how to become independent blind adults. The students then listened to a brief timeline of the history of the NFB and of blindness in the United States. Afterward each affiliate chose one of the historical events to act out as a skit. The morning concluded with a discussion of the finer points of NFB philosophy, led by Executive Director of Affiliate Action Joanne Wilson, during which the students had to choose what they would do if they were in a given situation like being offered free admission to a movie or extra time on a school assignment.
Saturday afternoon began with "Ask Miss Whozit." Adult mentor Richie Flores, a 2004 scholarship winner and current president of the NFB of Texas, Austin Chapter, read letters to Miss Whozit written by high school students seeking advice on how to deal with their struggles in high school, at home, and on dates. Richie then asked the participants whether they had ever experienced the same struggles and how they would respond if they were Miss Whozit. This activity demonstrated to the students and to the Teacher of Tomorrow participants that blind and sighted teens have many common experiences, and the students discussed effective solutions for overcoming them.
Later in the afternoon each student selected two challenge activities in which to participate. The adult mentors and other Federation leaders served as the teachers, and sleepshade use was required. The list included learning to use a chain saw, home repair, preparing and cooking on a charcoal grill, gift wrapping, applying makeup, playing goalball, and doing yoga.
Saturday evening concluded with salsa dance lessons, given by adult mentors Conchita Hernandez, a 2010 scholarship winner who recently graduated from the master’s program in teaching blind students at Louisiana Tech University, and Alex Castillo of New York, a recent graduate of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, who will soon enter graduate school. Sunday morning featured a tour of the Jernigan Institute and a confidence-building activity in which the students broke boards with their hands.
The other Federationists serving as adult mentors were Eric Guillory, director of youth services at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and Jeannie Massay, a 2009 scholarship winner and president of the NFB of Oklahoma.