Braille Monitor               April 2023

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Growing My Federation Heart Started with a Scholarship

by Kinshuk Tella

Kinshuk TellaFrom the Editor: This article is gratefully reprinted from The Voice of the Nation's Blind, Monday, March 7, 2022. As you can tell from the title, the author is a winner of a national scholarship, but there is so much more that he reveals. If I had to describe this contribution in one word, that word would be wisdom. Enjoy:

For me, every day is Earth Day. Nature always fascinated me. It began with catching insects in my backyard as a child and constructing miniature rainforests in glass terrariums. It has now led me to conducting research in the field of environmental geology at Miami University.

When I was growing up, I learned about the environmental issues we face today: deforestation leading to the extinction of species, melting glaciers leading to the decimation of our freshwater supplies, just to name a few. I am driven to develop and apply science-based solutions for these environmental problems and more. This drive is why I am on track to graduate with my Bachelor of Science degree in geology and environmental science in the spring of 2023, with an additional master's degree in environmental science, focused on policy analysis. It is what takes me this summer to an internship in the Silicon Valley of northern California, to ensure environmental compliance for Tesla, the world's largest electric vehicle company. Above all, it is why I'm dedicating my life to fighting climate change, personally and professionally, for decades to come.

I didn't always have the confidence to pursue these dreams. Growing up in an average suburban town in southwest Ohio, I lacked the positive blind role models that I did not know I needed. Being raised in a traditional South Asian household, my blindness was seen as a shameful disease to be cured. My own parents unintentionally gave me vitamin A toxicity from the gallons of carrot juice I was force-fed as a child. I internalized this mindset of shame, sitting in the back of the classroom to look like I was sighted, handwriting notes I could never actually read.

This mindset only changed when I found passions worth self-advocating for. I joined the marching band in seventh grade and built confidence by finding pride in the hours of hard work that I put into shows and concert performances. This coincided with my entry into the natural sciences. I took advanced placement classes in related fields, and finally I was able to put a career choice to what I have always enjoyed. But despite these passions, I still was missing a community.

Upon getting involved with the National Federation of the Blind, I went from lacking role models to having a community full of successful people who were breaking down the barriers they faced. My love for advocacy has led me to get involved in leadership in disability spaces at every level. I serve on the board for the National Association of Blind Students (NABS), the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio, and the Miami Valley Chapter. I co-founded Prism Marching Arts, the first all-inclusive special needs marching arts program in the Midwest. We put instruments in the hands of people who otherwise never would have been given such opportunities in their communities. In these ways I pay forward the opportunities that I have received, to everyone, no matter who they are and where they come from.

The National Federation of the Blind's Scholarship Programs, at both the state and national level, were the vessels that brought me into this community. This program showed me that I was not alone, that there were thousands of other blind people pursuing their dreams and redefining what it means to be blind. At first I simply viewed this program as a monetary award for my educational pursuits. But oftentimes the best experiences come as surprises. I quickly realized that the scholarship program offered much more than that scholarship; it offered invaluable mentorship, engaging community, and surplus fuel for my growing Federation heart. Blindness is the characteristic that brings us together, brings us to fight for our rights, and brings us to make the world an equitable place. I truly believe that programs like the National Federation of the Blind's Scholarship Program help mold these characteristics and experiences into a vessel for collective action and self-growth.

For me personally, I can say with certainty that the NFB Scholarship Program has been a catalyst for allowing me to gain the confidence to pursue my dreams, to take my career in the direction that I desire, and more.

If there is one lesson that I have learned, it is that we all live internally in different worlds, but at the same time we live physically in the same world. Our perspectives differ, but our resources and actions affect us the same. We live in an era in which the Earth and its systems are at a critical point, a point where climate change is arguably the greatest issue we face. This is why I dedicate my studies and future work to the environmental issues humanity faces today. I hope to work for the betterment of tomorrow and to make a world we can call our own.

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