The Braille Monitor                                                                              August/ September 1997

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Kenneth Jernigan

Kenneth Jernigan

 

The Day After Civil Rights

An Address Delivered by Kenneth Jernigan
At the Banquet of the Annual Convention
Of the National Federation of the Blind
New Orleans, Louisiana, July 4, 1997

It has been said that all knowledge consists of definition and classification, and even definition may be just another way of classifying. History, for example, can be classified (or divided) into ancient, medieval, and modern; secular and ecclesiastical; American, English, European, African, Asian, and Latin American; political, economic, and social. And there are hundreds of other ways of doing it.

As to our history, the history of the organized blind movement, I classify or divide it into four stages. Of course, I could add a fifth--the centuries and eons before our founding in 1940. But I prefer to think of that time as the dark ages, the pre-history before hope and enlightenment.

When the National Federation of the Blind came into being almost six decades ago, our problem was simple. It was to find enough food to keep body and soul together--not for all of us, of course, but for many. If you are hungry, it is hard to think about anything else. And the blind were hungry.

And then we moved to a second stage, the attempt to find jobs. Call it rehabilitation. It wasn't that poverty had been eliminated, but it had been so reduced that we could now begin to think about something else, about jobs, about how to earn and not just be given. Naturally the desire for jobs was there from the beginning, but it now moved to the center of the stage. This was in the late '50's, the '60's, and the '70's. We wanted jobs--and we found them. Not always according to our capacity and not always with equal pay--but jobs.

And then we moved to a third stage. Call it civil rights. After a person has satisfied hunger and found a job, there is still something else--the search for self-esteem and equal treatment--the yearning to belong and participate--to be part of the family and the broader community. And for us, as for other minorities, there was only one way to get there--confrontation. The status quo always fights change.

Many people think that civil rights and integration are the same thing. They aren't. The concept of civil rights precedes integration and is a necessary precursor to it. As used in the late twentieth century, the term civil rights (although some will deny it) always means force--an in-your-face attitude by the minority, laws that make somebody do this or that, picketing, marches in the street, court cases, and much else. And we have done those things, all of them. We had to.

But there comes a day after civil rights. There must. Otherwise, the first three stages (satisfying hunger, finding jobs, and getting civil rights) have been in vain. The laws, the court cases, the confrontations, the jobs, and even the satisfying of hunger can never be our prime focus. They are preliminary. It is not that they disappear. Rather it is that they become a foundation on which to build.

Legislation cannot create understanding. Confrontation cannot create good will, mutual acceptance, and respect. For that matter, legislation and confrontation cannot create self-esteem. The search for self-esteem begins in the period of civil rights, but the realization of self-esteem must wait for the day after civil rights.

It will be easy for me to be misunderstood, so I want to make something very clear. We have not forgotten how to fight, and we will do it when we have to. We must not become slack or cease to be vigilant, and we won't. But we have now made enough progress to move to the next stage on the road to freedom. I call it the day after civil rights.

If a minority lives too long in an armed camp atmosphere, that minority becomes poisoned and corroded. We must move beyond minority mentality and victim thinking. This will be difficult--especially in today's society, where hate and suspicion are a rising tide and where members of minorities are encouraged and expected to feel bitterness and alienation and members of the majority are encouraged and expected to feel guilt and preoccupation with the past. Yes, it will be hard to do what I am suggesting, but we must do it. We must be willing to give to others as much as we want others to give to us, and we must do it with good will and civility. We must make the hard choices and take the long view.

Let me be specific. If a blind person tries to exploit blindness to get an advantage, or tries to use blindness as an excuse for failure or bad behavior, we must not defend that blind person but must stand with the sighted person that the blind person is trying to victimize. This will not be easy; it will not always be politically correct; and it will frequently bring criticism, not only from those blind persons who claim to want equality but are not willing to earn it, but also from some of the sighted as well. But we must do it anyway. If we want equal treatment and true integration, we must act like equals and not hide behind minority status. Yes, blind people are our brothers and sisters, but so are the sighted. Unless we are willing to have it that way, we neither deserve nor truly want what we have always claimed as a birthright.

That birthright, equal responsibility as well as equal rights, is the very essence of the NFB's philosophy. It is what we set out to get in 1940; it is what we have fought for every step of the way; it is what we are now close to achieving; and it is what we are absolutely determined to have. Equal rights--equal responsibility.

We are capable of working with the sighted, playing with the sighted, and living with the sighted; and we are capable of doing it on terms of complete equality. Likewise, the sighted are capable of doing the same with us--and for the most part I think they want to. What we need is not confrontation but understanding, an understanding that runs both ways. This means an ongoing process of communication and public education.

It is for that reason that in 1991 we introduced the Kernel Books. As I said at last year's convention, what we have done in writing, publishing, and distributing these books is nothing short of revolutionary. More than three million of them are now in circulation, and the difference they have made in public attitudes about blindness would be hard to exaggerate.

This year, following our usual pattern, we are issuing two more Kernel Books. Book twelve, Like Cats and Dogs, is available now; and book thirteen, Wall-to-Wall Thanksgiving, will come this fall. There are, of course, many other elements in our educational program, but the Kernel Books are the centerpiece of it. As you hear the introductions to the two 1997 books and excerpts from the articles I wrote for them, keep in mind the context and the reason for publishing them. They must carry a message without being so preachy that nobody will read them, and they must be entertaining without blurring the purpose:

Like Cats and Dogs
Editor's Introduction

In the early and mid 1930's, when I was a boy in grade school, I dearly loved to read poetry--or, more properly speaking, have poetry read to me. And my teachers often obliged. One of my favorites was a poem by Eugene Field called the "Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat." Although it will never be a classic, I liked it. It begins like this:

The gingham dog and the calico cat
Side by side on the table sat;
'Twas half-past twelve,
and (what do you think!)
Nor one nor t'other had slept a wink!

The poem goes on to tell how the cat and dog had anawful fight and concludes by giving the outcome:

"But the truth about the cat and pup
Is this: they ate each other up!

Thus we come to the title of this book, Like Cats and Dogs. Maybe I chose it because I once had a dog that I dearly loved, or because I currently have some adorable kittens--or maybe because of the well-known saying about people fighting like cats and dogs. Regardless of the reason, the title is chosen, and we come to a question:

Exactly how do cats and dogs behave toward each other?

If they don't understand each other, they fight "like cats and dogs." But if they have the opportunity to get acquainted, they can live in harmony and become good friends.

As it is with cats and dogs, so it is with the blind and their sighted neighbors. There can either be harmony and friendship or misunderstanding and frustration. This little volume (the twelfth in the Kernel Book series) is meant to promote understanding, the ultimate framework of all true friendship and mutual respect.

As with past Kernel Books, the stories here are real-life experiences, told by the blind persons who lived them. The one exception is the article by Theresa House, who is the sighted wife of a blind man. Her parents feared that a blind person could never be an adequate husband for their daughter, and certainly not a suitable father for her children. You will see how it is turning out as they live their lives and raise their family.

As a matter of fact, marriage and children are major themes of this book. Bruce Gardner, blind and preparing to be a lawyer, dates and falls in love with a young sighted woman. She has questions, and so do her father and mother.

And there is the matter of blind parents and sighted children. As the boy and girl grow up, how do they feel? Do they think their parents can take care of them--and how do the parents feel? What ambitions do the parents have for their children?

There is another theme relative to children (blind children). Many are not given the chance to learn Braille. What does that do to them, and how do they feel about it as they come to adulthood?

There is more--the article I wrote about the difference between the sounds and smells of today and sixty years ago; and there is the story about a blind kitten (told by the owner, of course, not the kitten); an account of a blind woman's experience with pouring coffee; and much else. But I think I have told you enough to give you an inkling of what to expect.

At the core all of the people represented here are talking about the same thing. What they are saying is this:

In everything that counts we who are blind are just like you. As you read, you will recognize yourself in the story of our experiences. We laugh and cry, work and play, hope and dream, just like you. And although we don't forget that we are blind, we don't constantly think about it either. We are concerned with the routine business of daily living-- what we plan to have for dinner, the latest gossip, and the current shenanigans in Washington.

Around fifty thousand people become blind in this country each year. That means that it may happen to you, a member of your family, a neighbor, or a friend. So we want you to know what blindness is like--and, more to the point, what it isn't like. That is why we are producing the Kernel Books. We hope you will find this volume both informative and interesting. If you do, we will have accomplished our purpose. We want to live in harmony with our neighbors--not the way most people think cats and dogs live.

Kenneth Jernigan
Baltimore, Maryland 1997

That is the introduction. Now here are excerpts from my article called "The Sounds and Smells of Sixty Years":

Everybody knows that change is probably the only constant in life, but I think we don't fully understand what that means until after we are fifty. At least that is how it has been with me.

As readers of the Kernel Books know, I grew up on a farm in Tennessee in the 1920's and '30's, and it seems to me that almost nothing today is the way it was then. Since I have been blind all of my life, I am not talking about how things look but how they smell, taste, sound, and feel.

Start with smell. The world smells different today from what it did then. Nowadays I spend much of my time indoors, breathing conditioned air, whether heated or cooled. But that wasn't how it was when I was a boy.

Since we didn't have electricity, we couldn't have had air conditioning even if we could have afforded it. So in the summer the windows were open, and usually so were the doors. The air was rich with odors--the smells of growing things, of the barnyard, of the dust and gasoline from an occasional passing car, and of creeks. These were the smells of summer, but there were also the smells of winter--wood, burning in a fireplace, the smell of the unheated portions of the house, and the smell of the country in winter.

And it was not just the smells of that time but also the sounds--the mixture of stillness, bird songs, distant cattle, and the aliveness of the land. Today, whether indoors or out, one thing is always present--the sound of motors. There are automobiles, office machines, fluorescent lights, power tools, lawn mowers, vacuum cleaners, kitchen appliances, air conditioners, and heating units. When I was a boy, I might go a whole week without hearing a motor--but not today. In the world of the '90's there is never a minute without a motor. Sometimes it is an avalanche of noise, and sometimes only a vibration in the background--but it is always there--always a motor.

And I mustn't omit taste and touch. At first thought it might seem that there would be no difference between then and now, but there is. It isn't necessarily that I can't touch most of the things today that I touched in the 1930's. It is just that I don't. And as to taste, it may simply be my imagination or my aging taste buds, but it certainly doesn't seem that way. Food is prepared differently, and the ingredients take a different path from origin to table.

But what does all of that have to do with blindness? After all, that is what this book is about. Certainly blindness and blind people are not treated today the way they were sixty years ago. The blind of that generation had almost no chance to get a job and very little chance to get an education.

In my case (many of you know this story as well as I do, so you can judge for yourselves whether it fits our purpose in the Kernel Books), I was allowed to go to college, but I wasn't permitted to take the course of study I wanted. I attended elementary and high school at the Tennessee School for the Blind in Nashville, graduating in 1945. One day in the spring of my senior year, a state rehabilitation counselor came to talk to me about what I wanted to do and be.

I remember it well. We sat in what was called the parlor--a room, incidentally, which deserved the name. The School was housed in an old southern mansion, and the parlor, which was used as a general reception area, was the very essence of elegance.

The counselor and I sat on the elaborately carved sofa, and he asked me to tell him two or three areas of study that I might like to pursue when I went to college. I told him that I didn't need to pick two or three, that I wanted to be a lawyer.

He said that he wouldn't say that a blind person couldn't be a lawyer but that he thought it wasn't realistic. I would not be able to see the faces of the jury, he said, and would not be able to do the paperwork and the travelling. I argued, but I was only a teenager--and I didn't have any money.

Ultimately he told me (with big words and gently, but with absolute finality) that either I could go to college and study law and pay for it myself, or I could go and prepare to be something else and be assisted by the rehabilitation agency. Since I was a teenager and didn't have any money, I went and was something else.

Of course I now know that he was wrong. I am personally acquainted with hundreds of successfully practicing blind lawyers, and most of them are not noticeably more competent than I am. But I would not want to create the wrong impression. This man was not trying to do me harm. Quite the contrary. He truly believed that what he was doing was in my best interest. He was trying to help me. He was acting in the spirit of the times and doing the best he knew.

Today it wouldn't happen that way. Many things have made the difference, but principal among them is the National Federation of the Blind. Established in 1940 by a handful of blind men and women from seven states, the Federation has conducted a never-ending campaign to educate the public and stimulate the blind. I joined the organization in 1949, and it changed my life.

Today the Federation is the strongest and most constructive force in the affairs of the blind of this country, but its work is by no means finished. The job that still has to be done is not so much a matter of legislation or government assistance as of handling the interactions of daily life. We have come a long way in public acceptance, but sometimes the attitudes of sixty years ago are still with us.

Let me illustrate by what at first may seem to be trivial examples. (Again, some of you are familiar with the details surrounding the story I am about to tell, so you can judge whether it meets our test of suitability for the Kernel Books.) Over fifty years ago, when I was a boy on the farm in Tennessee, I often found time heavy on my hands during the summer months when I was not in school. To relieve the tedium, I would sometimes ride with a truck driver, who collected milk from the local farmers to take to a nearby cheese factory.

The days were hot, and when we could afford it, we sometimes bought a bottle of Coca-Cola. (Incidentally, it cost five cents.) I didn't have much money, but now and again I had a little, and I wanted to pay my share. One day I said to the driver (a young fellow about twenty), "I'll buy a Coke for each of us."

"Okay," he said, "stay here. I'll go in and get it."

"No," I said. "I'll go with you."

He was obviously uncomfortable and didn't want me to do it. Finally he said, "I can't do that. How would it look if people saw a blind person buying me a Coke?"

I was a teenager, not yet accustomed to the ways of diplomacy. So I told him in blunt terms that either I would buy the Coke publicly or I wouldn't buy it at all. After greed and pride had fought their battle, he decided not to have it, and we drove on--after which I was not welcome in the truck.

But that was more than fifty years ago. It couldn't happen today. Or could it? Well, let me tell you about an incident that occurred less than six months ago. My wife and I were entering a restaurant--an upscale, classy place with plenty of glitter and lots of manners.

It so fell out that another couple and we reached the door almost simultaneously. I happened to be positioned so that it was natural for me to open the door and hold it while the other couple entered, but the man was obviously ill at ease. He insisted that he hold the door and that my wife and I go first. Since I already had my hand on the door and was holding it open and since I was not in the mood to be treated like a child or an inferior, I dug in my mental heels and stayed put. It was all done on both sides with great politeness and courtly manners, but it was done. As I continued to hold the door, the other couple preceded us into the restaurant. But the man was obviously uncomfortable, showing by his comments and demeanor that he felt it was inappropriate for a blind person to hold a door for him and behave like an equal.

Trivial? Not related to the daily lives and economic problems of the blind? Not a factor in determining whether blind people can hold jobs or make money? Don't you believe it! These incidents (the one fifty years ago and the one this year) typify and symbolize everything that we are working to achieve.

But again I must emphasize that we are not talking about people who are trying to cause us harm. We are talking about people who, almost without exception, wish us well and want to be of help. Our job is not one of force but of giving people facts.

And key to it all is the National Federation of the Blind--blind persons coming together in local, state, and national meetings to encourage each other and inform the public. Sometimes we are tempted to believe that our progress is slow, but in reality it has been amazingly rapid. We have made more advances during the past sixty years than in all previously recorded history. And there are better days ahead.

It is true that the smells, sounds, touch, and taste of today are not what they were sixty years ago--but it is equally true that, despite occasional nostalgia, we wouldn't want them to be. We wouldn't because today is better--and not just in physical things but also in the patterns of opportunity and possibility. I say this despite all of the problems that face our country and our society. We who are blind look to the future with hope, and those who are sighted are helping us make that hope a reality.

That is my article for the first of this year's Kernel Books. Here are the introduction and the article for the second:

Kenneth Jernigan delivers banquet address.

Kenneth Jernigan delivers the
banquet address as the audience listens attentively.]

Wall-To-Wall Thanksgiving
Editor's Introduction

Most American holidays have a double significance--what they are and what they imply. New Year's Day, for instance, means just that, the beginning of another year. But it also means reviewing the past, planning for the future, and hoping to do better.

The Fourth of July commemorates the establishment of the nation. But over the years it has picked up a whole host of other meanings--everything from summer picnics and fireworks to how we should live and the current state of American values.

And then there is Thanksgiving--and also the present Kernel Book, the thirteenth in the series. When we started publishing the Kernel Books almost seven years ago, we didn't know how successful they would be, but our goal was to reach as many people as possible with true-life first-person stories told by blind persons themselves--how we raise children, hunt jobs, engage in courtship, get an education, go to church, cook a meal, meet friends, and do all of the other things that make up daily living.

And we wanted to do it in such a way that the average member of the sighted public would read and be interested. The results have been better than we could possibly have hoped. More than three million of the Kernel Books are now in circulation, and I rarely travel anywhere in the country without being approached by somebody who has read them and wants to talk about them or ask questions.

As to the present volume, Wall-to-Wall Thanksgiving, it is much like what has gone before. It tells about blind people as they live and work.

What does a blind boy do to earn summer spending money, and what do his sighted parents expect of him? What of the Viet Nam veteran who loses his sight in the war and comes home to build a new life? And what about the self-conscious youngster and young man with a little sight, who is ashamed of blindness and yet has to live with it?

What of the small details that come together to make the days that form the years--learning to ride a bicycle, cook a steak, read a book, get a job? This is what Wall-to-Wall Thanksgiving is about. I know the people who appear in its pages. They are friends of mine. Some have been my students. All of them are fellow participants in the work of the National Federation of the Blind.

If you wonder why so many of us give our time and effort to the Federation, it is because the Federation has played such an important part in making life better for us. In fact, the National Federation of the Blind has done more than any other single thing to improve the quality of life for blind persons in the twentieth century. It is blind persons coming together to help each other and do for themselves. That doesn't mean that we don't want or need help from our sighted friends and associates, for we do. But it does mean that we think we should try to help ourselves before we ask others for assistance. And we should also give as well as take. All of this is what the National Federation of the Blind stands for and means.

I have edited the Kernel Books from the beginning, and I have contributed a story to each of them. My present offering deals with help I have received from sighted people. Sometimes my reactions have been appropriate and mature; sometimes not. As you read, you will see that my views have changed as I have grown older. Perhaps my article, "Don't Throw the Nickel," sums it up.

As to the title of this thirteenth volume in the Kernel Book series, Wall-to-Wall Thanksgiving, it is taken from the story of the same name by Barbara Pierce. But like the various holidays, it has more than a single meaning. With all of the difficulties we have had and with all of the problems we still face, we who are blind have more reason for thanksgiving now than ever before in history.

Unlike many in today's society, we do not think of ourselves as victims. We feel that our future is bright with promise. That is so because we intend to work to make it that way, and because more and more sighted people are joining our cause and helping us.

I hope you will enjoy this book and that it will give you worthwhile information.

Kenneth Jernigan
Baltimore, Maryland, 1997

That is the introduction. Now for the article. As I have already said, it is called "Don't Throw the Nickel."

When is it appropriate for a blind person to accept help from a sighted person, and when is it not? If the offer is rejected, how can it be done without causing embarrassment or hurt feelings? Since most sighted people are well-disposed toward the blind, these are very real questions--questions that I as a blind person have faced all of my life. As you might imagine, my answers have changed as I have grown older and gained experience.

When I was a teenager, filled with the typical self-consciousness of adolescence, I frequently rode city buses. This was in Nashville. The school for the blind, where I was a student, was located on the edge of the city, and I liked to go downtown. Incidentally, in those days a bus ride cost a nickel, as did a lot of other things--a hamburger, a Coca-Cola, an order of French fries, a full-size candy bar, a double-dip of ice cream, and much else.

One day I was standing on the corner waiting for a bus when an elderly woman approached me and said, "Here, son, I'll help you." She then put a nickel into my hand.

I could tell that she was elderly because of her voice. There was quite a crowd at the bus stop, and I felt acute embarrassment. I tried to give the nickel back, but she moved out of my way and kept saying, "No, that's all right."

Everybody stopped talking, and my frustration mounted. Each time I stepped toward her to try to give back the nickel, she moved out of the way. It must have been quite a spectacle, me with my hand extended holding the nickel, and the woman weaving and dodging to avoid me. Finally, in absolute exasperation, I threw the nickel as far as I could down the street.

That was over fifty years ago, but the memory is still clear. Once the woman had placed the nickel in my hand, there was really no way I could have given it back. If I had simply and quietly accepted it and thanked her, very little notice would have been taken. As it was, I created quite a show. The elderly woman, who was only trying to help me, was undoubtedly embarrassed, and I did little to improve the image of blindness. Instead I did the exact opposite.

Ten years later, when I was in my twenties, I was teaching at the California training center for the blind in the San Francisco Bay area. One of my principal duties was to help newly blind persons learn how to deal maturely with loss of sight and the attitudes of the public about blindness.

Late one afternoon, after a particularly hard day, I was leaving the Center to go home. When I came to the corner to cross the street, an elderly man (he sounded as if he might be in his eighties) approached me and said, "I'll help you across the street." "No, thanks," I said. "I can make it just fine." I was polite but firm.

"I'll help you," he repeated, and took my arm. As I have already said, it had been a hard day. I made no discourteous response, but I speeded up my pace as we crossed the street.

Clearly the man could not keep up, and if I am to be honest, I knew that he couldn't. He released my arm and said with a hurt tone, "I was only trying to help."

When I got to the other side of the street, I came to a complete stop and said to myself, "Are you really so insecure about your blindness that, even if it has been a hard day, you can't afford to be kind to somebody who was only trying to help you?"

As with the nickel-throwing incident, there was a lesson to be learned. I should have accepted the man's offer of help and should have done it graciously. We would both have profited, each feeling that he had done the other a kindness. As it was, both of us experienced pain, even if only a little and even if only temporarily.

By the time another ten years had passed, I was in my thirties and directing programs for the blind in the state of Iowa. My job required me to do a great deal of traveling, and one day when I was checking into a hotel, a bellman carried my bag to my room. As he was leaving, I gave him a tip.

"Oh, no," he said, "I couldn't take a tip from you. I'm a Christian."

Unlike what I did in the other situations I have described, I did not refuse or resist. I simply thanked him and let it go at that. Of course I might have tried to get him to change his mind, but I didn't think it would be productive. And besides I didn't feel so insecure or unsure of myself that I needed to prove either to him or me that I was equal.

So far I have talked about help that has been courteously offered and probably should have been accepted. But what about the other kind? Blind people don't have a monopoly on rudeness or bad manners. Sighted people are human, too.

I think of a time when I was standing on a street corner in Des Moines, minding my own business and waiting for a friend. A big husky fellow with the momentum of a freight train came along and scooped me up without ever even pausing. "Come on, buddy," he said, as he grabbed my arm, "I'll help you across the street."

As it so happened, I didn't want to cross that street. I was going in another direction. But he didn't ask. And he wouldn't listen when I tried to tell him. He just kept walking and dragging me with him.

In the circumstances I planted my feet and resisted--and I should have. All of us, whether blind or sighted, owe courtesy and consideration to each other, but in this case I was being treated like a none too intelligent child. No, worse than that--for children are rarely manhandled in public.

Not long ago I entered an elevator, and a man standing next to me reached out and placed his hand on my arm, between me and the elevator door, in a protective manner. He probably felt that I might lean into the door as it was closing or that I might have difficulty when the door opened. It was a sheltering gesture, totally inappropriate but meant to be helpful. He would have been shocked at the thought of behaving that way toward a sighted adult passenger, but in my case he saw no impropriety.

When the door opened, he restrained me with his hand and said, "Wait. You can't go yet." Since I was standing immediately next to the door and since there was no traffic outside, it is hard to know why he felt I should wait. Maybe he thought I should take a moment to get my bearings, or maybe it was simply more of the protectiveness. Who knows?

He treated me very much as he would have treated a small child. How should I have reacted? It all depends on how insistent and how obtrusive he was. There is something to be said for restraint and not hurting other people's feelings, but there is also something to be said for recognizing when enough is enough.

In what I am about to say next, I am not just talking about persons who are totally blind but also about those who now see so poorly that they cannot function the way a sighted person normally does--persons who may be losing sight and who may be having trouble accepting it. I am also speaking to relatives.

As I have indicated, most blind people appreciate help when it is offered. When a blind person is walking through a crowd or down the street with somebody else and trying to carry on a conversation, it is easier to take the other person's arm. This is true even if the blind person is quite capable of traveling alone.

All of us like to do things for ourselves, but there are times when refusing to take an arm that is offered constitutes the very opposite of independence for a blind person. If, for instance, a blind person is walking with a sighted person through a crowded restaurant, the sensible thing to do is to take the sighted person's arm and go to the table without fuss or bother.

As you can tell, my views about independence and help from others have changed over the years. Probably the single most important factor in helping me come to my present notions has been the National Federation of the Blind. Having chapters in every state and almost every community of any size, the Federation is the nation's oldest and largest organization of blind persons.

As it is with me, so it is with thousands of other blind people throughout the country. We work together to help each other and ourselves. We give assistance to parents of blind children, to blind college students, to the newly blind, to the senior blind, and to blind persons who are trying to find employment. Above all, the Federation teaches a new way of thought about blindness. We want to take the mystery out of blindness. Mostly we who are blind are very much like you.

This is the message of the National Federation of the Blind, and it has made a great difference in my life. If I had to sum up my personal philosophy in a single sentence, it would probably be this: Do all you can to help yourself before you call on somebody else; try to make life better for those around you; and don't throw nickels.

There you have excerpts from the two Kernel Books for 1997. I believe our efforts at self-improvement and public education will be advanced by these books and that we will go the rest of the way to full participation and first-class status in society. While I am talking about the future, let me say something else. I never come into one of our convention sessions without feeling a lift of spirit and a surge of joy, for I know to the depths of my being that our shared bond of love and trust will never change, and that because of it we will be unswervable in our determination and unstoppable in our progress.

Through our public service announcements on radio and television, through newspaper articles and personal contacts, through gatherings like this, through our mail programs, through our publications, through public speaking engagements, through meetings with government officials and corporate leaders, and especially through our Kernel Books, we are telling our story--and we are doing it in our own way and with our own voice. The day after civil rights is fast approaching, and we will meet it as we have met every other challenge we have ever faced--joyously, actively, and triumphantly. My brothers and my sisters, we are truly changing what it means to be blind--and the Kernel Books are helping us do it.

Pooled Income Gifts

In this plan money donated to the National Federation of the Blind by a number of individuals is invested by the NFB. Each donor and the NFB sign an agreement that income from the funds will be paid to the donor quarterly or annually. Each donor receives a tax deduction for the gift; the NFB receives a useful donation; and the donor receives income of a specified amount for the rest of his or her life. For more information about the NFB pooled income fund, contact the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, phone (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.