by Val Demings
From the Editor: This speech was what some in the South would call a barn burner. It brought the house down. After a long day of words, sometimes we may find our heads falling forward, catching twenty winks in the hope we don’t miss anything important, but no one slept during this speech, as the audio version will make abundantly clear. Here is the speech given by Congresswoman Val Demings:
Good morning everybody! [applause] I’ve spent the last week in Washington, DC—c’mon—good morning everybody! [louder applause and cheers] What a joy it is for me to be here with you today. And it is my honor to welcome you to the Tenth Congressional District, the district that I represent. [applause] Boy, I love the sound of that! I want to thank you, National Federation of the Blind, for this awesome opportunity. And I do congratulate you on your seventy-seventh annual convention—you’ve been around seventy-seven years, you gotta be doing something right! To your president, to your chairman, to my Florida connection Denise, thank you so very much.
I just got home late last night, but what an amazing week that you’ve had. From education to keeping up with the ever-changing technology, to financial workshops to workshops for cancer survivors to blind musician support groups to surviving social media and the unforgettable Showcase of Talent, it appears that you’ve had a productive and a fun convention; am I right about that? [applause] I also want to take just a moment—we’re here at the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel, and I do want to take just a moment to recognize—I know you’ve probably done so this week—to recognize Harris Rosen. We thank him for his amazing contributions to our community.
There is a scripture that says—just work with me for a few minutes here—there is a scripture that says, “I must do the work of him that sent me while it is day: for night cometh when no man (or woman) can work.” [John 9:4] Now I believe these words really have little to do with night and day as we know it, but I believe these words have more to do with time and with a sense of urgency to do good works. Another passage says, “Don’t tell your neighbor to come back tomorrow if you can help him (or her) today.” [Proverbs 3:28] And Dr. Martin Luther King said this, “The time is always right to do what’s right.” [applause]
You see, these words have special meaning to me because of my own story. I never wanted someone to do the work for me, but I did need a community that created an environment for me to be able to do the work myself. For me to be able to succeed, so thank you so much National Federation of the Blind, for allowing me to share just a little bit of my story. For you see, my story provided the foundation and the motivation for what I do every day in the United States Congress.
I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida; I’ve been in Florida all of my life and in Duval County in the House. I am the youngest of seven children. My mother cleaned houses for a living, which means yes, she was a maid. And my father was a janitor: he picked oranges, he mowed lawns—you see my dad used to go to work seven days a week to make ends meet for our family, to keep a roof over our head, and food on the table. I grew up in a two-bedroom wood-frame house that I remember being very hot in the summer and pretty cold in the winter. You see, Jacksonville, Florida, is very similar to South Georgia—gets pretty cold there. But in spite of who I was and the challenges that I faced, there were people along the way who encouraged me, pushed me, leveled the playing field for me, and worked to give me every opportunity to succeed. I was the first in my family to go to college, and I decided a long time ago that I wanted to work hard to improve the quality of life for persons in my community.
After college I worked as a social worker, and I want you to know I’ve taken three oaths in my lifetime: the first oath I took in 1984—yes that was a good while ago, I understand that—but that was my first oath I took as a young police officer with the Orlando Police Department [applause]. The second oath I took was in 2007 when I was sworn in—you’ve already heard it, but I’m going to say it again because I like hearing it—when I was sworn in as the thirty-sixth chief of police and the first woman to hold that position. [cheers] And the third oath I took on January 3 of this year, which just happened to be my mother’s birthday, was when I was sworn in as a member of the United States House of Representatives. I want you to know, National Federation of the Blind, that I’ve taken every oath very, very seriously. And I remember every oath because they all stated that I would protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. You see, I know for a fact—I know you know it too, but I came just to remind you today—that we do live in the greatest country in the world! [cheers, applause] And I believe with all of my heart in the Constitution of the United States. I believe in the promise of America--that we are all created equal. Yes, we are created equal regardless of the color of our skin, our ethnic backgrounds, our religious belief, our sexual orientation, how much money we have in the bank, or if we can see or if we are blind! [cheers] You see I know, I know, National Federation of the Blind, that blindness does not define you! I know that you believe in the full capacity of blind people. In other words, you believe that blind people, too, can reach their full potential. The writer Myles Monroe said that, “Potential is untapped power; reserved strength is all you can be but have not yet become, all you can do but have not yet done, how high you can reach but have not yet reached.” Blindness does not define you. You see, I know that you can live the life that you want.
I have spent my adult life working to improve the quality of life for other persons, and, as a member of Congress, my focus has not changed. You see, I’m still in the same business. I can assure you that I will fight for equality for the blind, that I will fight for effective rehabilitation, that I will work to make technology accessible to the blind, and yes, I am a proud sponsor of H.R. 1734, the Access Technology Affordability Act. [cheers, applause]
I believe in the promise of America, that all persons are endowed with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that does mean that you can live the life you want.
Helen Keller said this, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” You see, I dream in color. I dream of an America where every person, regardless of the color of their skin, their ethnic backgrounds—I’ll say it again—religious beliefs, sexual orientation, how much money they have in the bank, whether they can see or blind—I believe they should have every opportunity to succeed. I believe that you should be able to live up to your full potential. I do believe that you should be able to live the life you want. That’s the vision that I have for the America that I believe in. [applause]So, National Federation of the Blind, continue to take care of your business. I thank you so much for this great opportunity. God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America! Thank you. [cheers, applause]