by Mark Riccobono
From the Editor: On our eightieth anniversary President Riccobono shared these thoughts in the NFB President’s Notebook sent to chapter and affiliate presidents. Little did he know he was simultaneously constructing the lead article to begin 2021. Here is what he said:
This morning as I took my daily walk through Riverside Park (which sits just east of the Johnson Street side of our headquarters), I pictured in my mind the symbology of the moment. I was there just at the time that the sun was supposed to rise in Baltimore. I started thinking about what the sunrise might have been like on that day eighty years ago when Jacobus tenBroek woke up, and his plan for that day was to establish the National Federation of the Blind. Did he know he would be elected as the movement’s first President and that he would dedicate much of his remaining twenty-seven-and-one-half years to its advancement? Today was slightly chilly, but the sunrise brought a sense of warmth to the clear morning. Is that similar to what Dr. tenBroek felt—a lifting of the cold, hard times that blind people had experienced for decades?
As I walked south in the park, it occurred to me that the morning sunlight would shine on the Johnson Street side of our building perfectly, there being no major structures blocking the morning sun from our building. The distance between the sun and our building is vast, and with the complexities of our lives now, 1940 seems just as distant from 2020. I imagined the sun hitting our building and considered the hundreds of thousands of lives that have lived under that sun and contributed to the movement we share.
Eighty years is a short time. Yet, for the blind it represents significant progress. In 1940 the very building that now serves as the headquarters for our efforts was producing materials for use in the Second World War. The workers inside could have never imagined it would later become the best-known facility for advancing the rights of the blind anywhere in the world. Furthermore, the sixteen delegates who gathered together to form the first membership of the Federation could not have imagined the twists, turns, victories, and setbacks we have faced over these eighty years.
As I came to the south end of the walkway in the park, I followed the path east into the morning sun. The warmth of the sun felt like hope: the kind of hope that we experience in this movement every day, the feeling that those sixteen people must have had when they came together to establish what has come to be the most powerful force for blind people.
It is fitting on this day to look back and to experience the warm feelings that come from all that we have accomplished. We should be proud of those who came before us and all they did to make it possible for us to walk this path. Once we do that for a short time, we have a choice: we can continue celebrating the past, or we can turn with renewed strength, face the future, and walk confidently in that direction with the light of our history supporting us and urging us to march forward. When I got to the east end of the path in the park, I did not hesitate; I turned and began to loop back around to the west to come to our building to begin another day marching alongside each of you to advance our collective movement.
As Thanksgiving approaches, I am left with one thought as I enter our Johnson Street door with the sun at my back. I am thankful for the incredible blind people who made it possible through their daily sacrifice for us to be in this moment. I am equally thankful for the incredible blind people who allow us to walk confidently into the future. It is an honor to know we march together every day. It is a comfort to know you have my back. It is a joy to imagine what we will do together tomorrow.
I do not know if I will walk that same path twenty years from now, but I am confident in what our movement will be on our one hundredth anniversary—and for that I feel a great sense of pride. Until then, I am going to enjoy the struggle and the accomplishment of building with each of you every day. Take a moment to reflect on those Federationists who you have known personally who have helped us get to today. Then, with the warmth of that love, turn, link arms with me, and let’s march into the future together. When I say “Let’s go build the National Federation of the Blind,” what I mean is let’s enjoy the honor of working together to transform our dreams and the dreams of those who have not yet discovered our movement into reality. The warmth of the movement started before we got here. If we do it right, the warmth will go beyond us into a future where others will reflect fondly on what we have done to make their lives better every day.