by Pamela Allen
From the Editor: If Federationists were to describe Pam Allen, these would be the words they would use: kind, humble, intelligent, genuine, friendly, and caring. What is so wonderful about this person is that with all of these positive attributes, she is not full of herself. She cares deeply about paying back those who have created the opportunities she has taken advantage of and is equally committed to paying it forward so that others have even greater opportunities. Here is what she has to say about what brought her to the Federation, what keeps her, and her intense desire to see that others benefit both from the programs and activities of the organization and from the blessing that comes through giving back and bettering the lives of others:
As I grab my keys and my purse, I reflect upon my day. I am grateful that the conference call that just ended was productive and that we were able to make some positive suggestions to the teachers trying to establish an IEP that will give the student strong blindness skills. I think about the senior who stopped by to inquire about techniques for maintaining independence though her vision was decreasing. I am energized by the prospect of the passage of the legislation my colleague and I met earlier to discuss which will protect the rights of blind parents. I close the door behind me and head to my local chapter meeting. As we recite the NFB pledge together, I think about how “participating actively in the National Federation of the Blind” has made such a positive difference in my life.
I have been blind since I was about two years old. I was incredibly blessed to have parents, siblings, teachers, and friends who did not see blindness as a limitation. They held high expectations for me and taught me that I could achieve the dreams and goals I set for myself. As I transitioned from childhood to adulthood, I began to have questions that my sighted friends and family members could not answer fully. I began searching for successful blind mentors who could give me advice and share their experiences about living independently and excelling in various careers. I was not interested in interacting with people who were content to be passive and limited by the stereotypes about the inadequacies of blind people. Rather, I was determined to find people who were not afraid to challenge the negative misconceptions about blindness so prevalent in society. While in college, I attended a seminar for blind college students sponsored by the NFB of Ohio and the Student Division of the NFB. While there, I met competent and confident blind people who challenged and inspired me. I also learned about scholarships for blind students and about an internship opportunity at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, one of our three NFB training centers. Prior to my senior year of college, I had the distinct honor of winning a national scholarship from the NFB. As part of my award, I attended my first national convention in New Orleans and immediately knew I wanted to be part of this dynamic Federation family. I realized how many of the opportunities I had been afforded were a direct result of the systemic change brought about by the work of the National Federation of the Blind. Little did I know how much my life would be forever changed.
During the years since that first convention, I have had the true honor and privilege of being mentored and guided by so many incredible role models. I have benefited directly from the life-changing training approach which was developed by Dr. Jernigan and is now carried out at the Louisiana Center for the Blind of which I am a graduate and at our sister centers in Minnesota and Colorado. My involvement has allowed me to travel to numerous conventions and presentations around the country where I can share with and learn from others who are committed to working together to help blind people live the lives they want! I have witnessed the extraordinary transformation that occurs when a person realizes and internalizes the belief that blindness does not have to be a barrier to success! I have also been blessed to have met my incredible husband, Roland, whose support and dedication to our work serve as a catalyst for such positive growth.
As the chapter meeting continues, I am motivated by listening to President Riccobono’s remarks on the Presidential Release as I dream about the possibilities! I think about the members gathered at the meeting where representing so many different backgrounds and experiences are joined together by the common belief that blindness is not a tragedy and that we have the power and imagination to create positive change! From our youngest members who happen to be daughters of blind parents to our oldest member who lost her vision later in life, we are all committed to supporting each other and helping one another gain the tools and the confidence needed to accomplish our goals. I reflect on a report given about a recent yard sale held by our chapter where members not only raised funds but equally importantly, showed themselves and the public that blind people can organize and execute a successful event! As our meeting adjourns and members begin to head out to dinner together, I am moved by the expression of love I witness as one offers some pointers on cane travel to someone who is still unsure and just beginning the journey toward independence.
As we swap stories and laugh together over dinner, I think about the thousands of Federationists meeting in chapters around our country. Our philosophy and core values of collective action, courage, respect, full participation, democracy, and love are demonstrated in large and small ways through the work we do together. I am grateful for the foundation our philosophy provides as we work on conquering our individual fears about blindness and as we implement policies and programs that will bring about the needed societal change. I am encouraged by the risks we will take to redefine blindness.
Just as I know it has for so many others, my involvement in the NFB has enabled me to be part of and an active leader in the most powerful organization of blind people in the world, one that has opened doors of opportunity and given hope to so many! From my first convention to the present, I have found so many ways to give and serve.
In the beginning, I believe I benefited more than I gave, but with time and nurturing, I was able to find ways to share. I continue to take and give, to be a learner and mentor, and to be challenged never to settle or lower my expectations. Even when the battle seems daunting or the goal hard to attain, I draw strength from our collective experiences and from the knowledge that there is still so much more to do together! Like an orchestra that combines so many different instruments to perform a symphony, we all have a place in this organization to utilize our talents and knowledge to create something that is more powerful and beautiful than we could have imagined.
One of the things I love most about the Federation is that we have so much to offer—something to share, a mentor to meet, a way to grow—whether you have recently joined or have been a member for decades. The Federation is comprised of blind people from diverse backgrounds and different life experiences who know the power of working together to shatter misconceptions about blindness.
Being a member of the National Federation of the Blind will challenge you as it has and continues to challenge me. It will shape your ideas and attitudes about blindness and will push you out of your comfort zone. You will find hope and will increase your belief in what is possible.
After we get home from dinner, I sit in front of my computer preparing for a seminar class the following day with students at the center, many of whom are learning about the National Federation of the Blind for the first time. We will be discussing President Riccobono’s 2016 speech, “The Understanding of Fear and the Power of Progress,” delivered at the annual convention banquet. One of my favorite passages from the speech is:
I am grateful for the small part my active participation contributes to accomplish these goals, and I am thankful for each member’s tireless commitment to creating a world free from fear and full of opportunity. We need you! Together, let’s go build the National Federation of the Blind!
My brothers and my sisters, we are the masters of our own future. The power to make change and to cultivate hope is within each of us. We bond together in the National Federation of the Blind to face the uncertainty of the future, to challenge ourselves to expand the horizons, and to take ownership of living the lives we want. Society’s fears of blindness will not stop us. Facing our own fears will make us stronger. And the power of our unwavering love, hope, and determination will lead us through uncertainty to new heights. Let us break down the conditioned fears of others. Let us challenge ourselves to conquer the fears that stand in our way. Let us overwhelm fear with our unstoppable engine of hope.