by Ronza Othman
From the Editor: Normally the hosting of a national convention can be summarized in the convention roundup because quite often there are some clever remarks, some interplay between members, and perhaps a special band comes to play two or three songs. This is fitting, welcoming, and always appreciated. But the Maryland affiliate went well beyond the traditional in its hosting responsibilities, so a separate article was requested and delivered.
Now what do you do when a convention is virtual, when we’ve already had one, and when what people are looking for is getting together to share physical experiences? You do what we always do: you do your best to make lemonade out of lemons, and you turn challenges into opportunities. This is exactly what the Maryland affiliate did. Never in my memory has any affiliate been so creative and enthusiastic in writing articles leading up to the convention to promote it, making sure that something about it got on the Presidential Release, and giving all of us something tangible to do to take the place of buying airline tickets, packing suitcases, and worrying what it was that we left out.
Ronza Othman is the capable and hard-working president of our Maryland affiliate. Holding that office means that she has plenty of things to do, but she made time for the readers of the Braille Monitor and let us in on what it was like to be the convention host, the activities that were generated, and the fun that the Maryland affiliate had in carving out new territory and raising the bar for future conventions. Here is what she says:
On behalf of the Maryland affiliate, I’d like to extend gratitude and appreciation to Federationists throughout the country and world who made the 2021 NFB National Convention the best one so far. Maryland had the privilege of being the 2021 host affiliate, and we hope everyone enjoyed the myriad of activities we planned. Our activities touched on aspects of our movement, our region, our history, and our culture, and hopefully the members had fun and learned something they hadn’t previously known. Below is a summary of many of our activities both in the months leading up to the convention and during convention itself.
We only learned that we would host the convention in February. Usually, affiliates get a year’s notice, and sometimes several years’ notice. But Maryland Federationists rose to the challenge with joy and excitement. We had more than fifty individuals volunteer to serve on the National Convention Host Planning Committee, and we broke into eight different subcommittees. Everyone worked hard to ensure that the programming leading up to the convention and during the convention for which the host affiliate was responsible was robust and meaningful.
Marylanders are very competitive, so pretty quickly a theme of holding contests as often as possible emerged. Each contest winner received twenty dollars and a squeezable crab.
We held contests as part of each Presidential Release from April through June. The April contest featured some key aspects and dates related to the convention, and contest participants needed to identify both the speakers and the music in the vignette. No one won the April contest. The May contest featured Maryland Jeopardy; congratulations to Marci Carpenter of Washington for winning this contest. The June contest featured Federation music, and Ellen Ringlein of Maryland was the contest winner.
Our writers worked hard at including articles in the April through June Braille Monitor, which highlighted our plans for the convention, Maryland-themed recipes, and even an article on how to crack codes. The code article had an imbedded contest. Congratulations to Brook Sexton of Minnesota for deciphering the June Braille Monitor hidden message.
We launched a blog that was posted on nfb.org/convention with various stories. These ranged from Maryland dialect to how to prepare crab to how to eat crab. We also posted a stoop story, which is a very Maryland concept wherein Marylanders sit on their front stoops and swap stories with their neighbors and passersby.
The goal of the blog posts and contests was to get Federationists excited about the convention. Given the hundreds of people who participated in the contests and read the blog posts, we think it worked.
Our innovative planners hosted another contest, which was first revealed at the Rookie Round-Up and shared once again at the NFB Board Meeting. This information scavenger hunt featured aspects of the convention that participants would learn throughout the week, like overall registration. Congratulations to Rose Warner of Maryland for winning this contest.
Hopefully you attended one of our four tours, the B&O Railroad Museum, the NASA Goddard Space Center, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Museum, and our NFB headquarters building tour. All of these can be heard by going to https://nfb.org/get-involved/national-convention/past-conventions/2021-national-convention and selecting the desired link. It was our pleasure to share a bit of our state’s culture and important sites with you.
Our creative Federationists also hosted LOL Comedy Night at which nine Federationists competed before a live virtual audience to see who would be crowned the 2021 LOL Comedian. Congratulations to Yvonne Neubert of Tennessee for making us all laugh out loud.
Knowing that the convention must be more than hard work, our committee organized some fun Maryland-themed fit breaks this year. Afterwards, we took an informal poll on whether people preferred the fit break where Sharon Maneki taught the students the Whip & Nay or the fit break where Pam Allen argued with Homer Simpson and ate Maryland and Louisiana themed food, which transitioned the convention host duties from Maryland to Louisiana. It was a tie.
The affiliate hosted a daily Breakfast Club to walk through the agenda and share access information for that day’s meetings. The Breakfast Club was intended to bridge the technology gap for those less comfortable with technology, and attendance was tremendous. We have been offering the Breakfast Club for members of the Maryland affiliate, and we are delighted that the entire membership was able to benefit from it this year.
We also held a drawing for the banquet parties that registered by June 30. Congratulations to Kay Spears and the West Valley Chapter of the NFB of Arizona. They received a dozen crab cakes and they ate them at their banquet party.
A convention is not a convention without swag. Maryland sold convention scrubs to commemorate the 2021 convention. They are navy blue with an image of a red crab. Superimposed on the red crab is the NFB logo in white with the words “It’s a Maryland thing” beneath the crab. Many Federationists wore their convention scrubs to their in-person banquets, and I imagine many more wore them as they attended the virtual aspects of the convention.
Finally, we brought the convention into Maryland during the opening ceremonies with our Clockwise Tour of Maryland. And, because we are us, we included a contest. Congratulations to Katelyn MacIntyre of Arizona on winning the opening ceremonies contest by identifying ten unique sounds from the Clockwise Tour.
We are the Maryland affiliate, and we’re where the headquarters of our life-changing organization resides. But though the Federation flag flies highest here, we are so very similar to our fifty-one sister affiliates in many ways. We hope the clockwise tour inspired you to think about and honor our differences while celebrating the things that bring us together in our shared experience as members of the National Federation of the Blind. We know that while we reflect on our history, we must focus forward, and with love, hope, and determination, we are Stronger Together.