Braille Monitor               February 2024

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My Perspective on the Ninety-Third Leadership Seminar

by Cindy Scott-Huisman

Cindy Scott-HuismanFrom the Editor: For more than half a century, the National Federation of the Blind has been holding leadership seminars at our national office. Those who attend are recommended by affiliate presidents and other leaders in the movement. Cindy recently attended a seminar and shares her reaction to being invited, planning to attend, and the experience while in the seminar.

It was an honor and a challenge to attend the ninety-third Presidential Leadership Seminar. I had heard about leadership training from a friend who has really taken me under wing. It was so exciting to receive the phone call letting me know I was being asked to attend. The dates for Leadership Seminar for the autumn of 2023 fell on my thirty-third wedding anniversary. There was no way I was going to turn down the chance to learn more about leadership alongside other selected participants, so I gently informed my husband about my conflict with celebrating on the exact day. This would be for the first time. I softened the news with an invitation to come to Baltimore on my last day of training so we could spend a few days together. It all worked out wonderfully well. We enjoyed exploring Baltimore and look forward to returning.

It felt like there were a lot of unknowns prior to attending the Leadership Seminar, even with several emails from the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, written to prepare attendees. There was a reading list that included the book, Walking Alone and Marching Together, convention banquet speeches, and other reference materials. There was also a detailed document about staying at the Jernigan Institute, as well as helpful information about navigating the airport and ground transportation.

Even with all of these preparations, I'd have to admit that I was feeling more nervous than excited the morning my husband dropped me off at the Little Rock airport. I have had very little experience traveling alone. I am grateful for this opportunity to have expanded upon my solo travels.

I had heard about the benefits of attending a National Federation of the Blind Training Center from folks who have gotten to go to one of them and was intrigued by the account from Andrew Leland about time he spent at the Colorado Center, in his book, The Country of the Blind: A Memoir at the End of Sight. I have not attended one of the training centers, and I have trouble seeing myself breaking away from life as a small-business owner long enough to attend. So, if I use my imagination, it seems like this three-and-a-half-day super-intense leadership training will possibly be the closest I'll get to attending one of the training centers.

I felt more independent and empowered after Leadership Seminar—more confident and focused. I learned an incredible amount from each and every person involved, not just by their words but by their example through a jam-packed schedule of sessions, touring the entire building, and during meal-times. There were various activities and discussions that addressed leadership, ideals, and blindness. The different aspects of what the National Federation of the Blind does came to life and had new meaning when I got to visit all the areas of the Jernigan Institute. It's inspiring to be in the space where the future Museum of the Blind People's Movement will reside. Spontaneously, not on any agenda, conversations occurred about topics such as fundraising, and it was so interesting to exchange ideas with others.

The last evening of the Fall 2023 Presidential Leadership Seminar, the Twisted Pilots crowded together for a group photo in the Diane McGeorge Living Room. Left to right, back row moving forward: Mark Riccobono, Grace Anderson, Anil Lewis; Dean Charlier, Cindy Scott-Huisman, Jim Portillo (obstructed), Shirley Dorris, Nick Reisner, Matt Yanuzzi; Denise Charlier, Jessica Beecham, Nikki Jackson, Tina Reisner, Amanda Juetten; Amelia Pellicciotti, Kiva Smith, Syed Rizvi, Rasheta Bunting, Mona Coker, Wendy Walker, Sanho Steele-Louchart.

I was fully sighted until shortly after I turned fifty-one late in 2017. Our son lost his central eyesight in 1999 at age seven, so the blind/low-vision world was not completely foreign to me. I have tried to transition from sighted to where I am now by tackling the day-to-day obstacles. I show up each day and learn new ways of doing life. These improvements are mostly incremental steps. Anything a person does on a regular enough basis becomes easier over time. The mental eagerness to accept the invitation to attend Leadership Seminar was a knee-jerk reaction. The reality of pushing myself way beyond didn't hit me until days before my departure. The wheels were all in motion at that point, and I knew there was no backing out. If we don't make those movements toward doing something new and perhaps a little uncomfortable every once in a while, how else do we expand our abilities and comfort-zone?

I don't know the actual age-range of the leadership participants involved in the ninety-third Seminar, but I can guess that it is a wide range. There were approximately twenty of us. We all brought different backgrounds, perspectives, experiences, and talents to the table. During the very first informal gathering of participants, I was sharing about a TSA worker talking more about me than to me, saying that people who are "visually impaired" don't have to take off their shoes. I have traveled multiple times since sight-loss, and no one has ever mentioned this before, so I was wondering what that was about. One of the much younger participants remarked that people who are over seventy don't have to take off their shoes when going through security in the airport. This made me laugh, because I didn't know if she was commenting on my age or volunteering a random "fun fact." We may never know.

There are specifics that I'll not go into about attending Leadership Seminar, mainly because we want to preserve the experience for others who will attend in the future. We found out that the ninety-second Leadership Seminarians had voted to not allow recording of the sessions during the ninety-third Seminar, so it was up to us to pay attention and take notes. This helped to facilitate more open and honest discussion about relevant topics and matters happening in state affiliates currently. By the ending segment of our Seminar, the Twisted Pilots followed suit and also voted to not allow the following Seminar to record their sessions either.

Each Leadership Seminar earns a name for their group. How did we get the name Twisted Pilots? We aren't certain, but there were some theories.

One special moment that I'll never forget was, on the day of our wedding anniversary, President Riccobono had me call my husband, and the whole room full of seminarians sang to him. There was no rehearsal, so we weren't all singing the same exact song, but the love came through, and it was thoughtful, exuberant, and appreciated.

The entire nomination process for attending Leadership Seminar is perhaps a bit mysterious among members. The one thing I know for sure is that the final decision about who is invited to attend is made by President Mark Riccobono. Around the time I was selected to attend, I was approaching three years as Central Arkansas Chapter President. I was recently elected to serve on the NFB of Arkansas affiliate board, and I had attended my first national convention. Are any of these roles or involvement kind of a prerequisite? I can't say for sure, but I'd presume that active leaders are more likely to become noticed. The purpose is to cultivate strong leaders in our movement. I do understand that participation in at least one national convention is essential in providing the perspective needed to get the most out of the experience. It is a fantastic opportunity to learn and grow, and it enriches my confidence immensely.  It feels like something really special that we got to be a part of, and I feel enthused and blessed.

The Twisted Pilots have a new network of other leaders across the country. We are occasionally in touch, and it's proven to be a valuable resource. It's an experience I'm sure we all cherish.
I am thankful to President Mark Riccobono for selecting each of us to attend. So, if you ever get the call inviting you to attend a Presidential Leadership Seminar, I sincerely hope you will carefully consider attending. I believe it will change your life for the better.

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