'American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections Convention 2019 GENERAL SESSIONS
by Jean Brown
Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 62, Number 8, August-September 2019
From the Editor: When Jean Brown stepped to the microphone on the last afternoon of convention, she revealed that her life has been made up of many successes and challenges. Here is her powerful story.
It is so good to be here today, and I thank President Riccobono for allowing me this opportunity.
Some of you know me as Jean. Others, especially people from Indiana, know me as Jeannie. Others simply know me as Ron Brown's wife. I thank all of you, because all of you are such a big part of our lives. We absolutely love the Federation family, and I want the Federation family to know more about me.
At the age of thirteen I became a freelance model, and at the age of eighteen I had a daughter named Lisa. At the age of twenty-three, which became a pivotal point in my life, I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. At the age of twenty-three I found out that I was carrying my second child. At the age of twenty-three I found out that I was going to be an exclusive for Ann Geddes Modeling Agency. At the age of twenty-three I lost my sight. All of those things happened, and trying to deal with one thing after another was very hard. Those were some of the most memorable days of my life and some of the most heartbreaking days.
But all in all, I realize that where we have a plan, God has a blueprint. I decided that there were three words that were going to get me through, and they were simply "I got this." [Cheers and applause] It was amazing how a marriage that had gone on for almost ten years was about to end simply because my ex-husband couldn't deal with my blindness. I had to wake up every day to it, but he couldn't deal with it. I had to use the cane so that I didn't step off the curb or fall down a flight of stairs, but he was busy putting that cane behind the door when I got ready to leave, saying, "Take my arm; I gotcha." I found out that doesn't last forever. You better know how to get around by yourself! You better know how to take your cane and go where you need to go. If you are depending on someone else, you may or may not get there.
I realized that this man was really putting me down. You are embarrassed because I have to use a cane? Well, at that point it was time to say, "You need to pack." [Applause]
So as he did just that, I had two daughters who were four and nine that I had to take care of. Mind you, I left Mama's house to go to his house, and now my house with my children and all of the responsibilities that came along with it were on me. That's all good though, because I got this. I got this. [Applause]
My daughters are very bright. They were good at reading and writing. My nine-year-old was helping me write out checks. I was making up stories and telling them to the children because I couldn't read Braille. Then the Lions Club gave me a Braille writer. I sat with tears rolling down my face because I could not read Braille. I could not write Braille. I would sit there at my dining room table at night trying to learn to read. It made no sense to me. But I'll tell you what: what did make sense was that if I did not learn it, I had only myself to blame. I was going to be there for my daughters no matter what.
Let me go back just a little bit here. When my youngest, LaTrice, was born, I remember the nurse standing beside my bed, and she reached over and touched my hand as if to console me. She said, "You know, we can send someone to your house every day to help you take care of your baby, because being at home alone like this with her is going to be really difficult." And you know, I had the same three words for her: "I got this. I've had one child in the house; I can do this."
She looked at me as if she didn't quite understand, and she said, "But you know, it's going to be hard. You've got to warm up her bottles, and you've got to change her, and how are you going to know . . ."
I said, "The same way you do. The finger in the diaper always works." You see, I don't need somebody to come into my house and be in my space where I'm giving my children all the love that I can possibly give them. I've got this! [Applause]
When I met my now-husband, we were at a rehab center where he was working and I was getting ready to be a craft instructor. I may be blind, but I still like tall, handsome, good-looking men. So when we were introduced, I kind of took a step back and said, "Whew, yeah." My daughter looked at him, and because she had seen him before, she thought, "Whew, there's Stevie Wonder." She took off. She had never seen a blind man before, and here he was, with a head full of hair, and she thought for sure he was Stevie Wonder. Months later when I got the job and she saw him coming around the corner, tapping that cane, she said, "Momma, there's Stevie Wonder again." And I thought, "Oh yeah, this is all good!" It was interesting how my sighted husband gave up almost ten years of marriage because he didn't want to wake up every day to a blind wife. Oh honey, I ain't mad—and how I met Ron and after dating him for six years we got married, and he was like, "You are the most beautiful thing I've ever woke up to." And I was like, "Oh, I like this!" [Applause]
But you know, I went through a period of time where I thought family didn't understand. The cousins that I'd grown up with were staying away from me and not stopping in like they used to because I lost my sight. They were just not the same. I mean, I knew what was different about me—I'd lost my sight—and if that made you want to stay away, then I thought, "Good idea. I didn't ask for this either." But I learned to adjust, and I learned that I could go on with or without those that I knew because I had the power of Almighty God on my side, and I had my daughters beside me, and I had Ron in my life, and I knew that things were going to be a lot different.
Ron was involved in the National Federation of the Blind thanks to Dr. Maurer, who recruited him when Ron was a teenager. When Ron and Paul Howard decided that they were going to start a chapter in northwest Indiana, they were busy trying to convince me that I needed to be a part of it. I thought and said, "I don't need to be a card-carrying member of anything. I'm fine like I am."
Paul said, "But don't you want to give back to the community?" And I thought, "Well, I guess I could." I kind of felt like so many people belong to so many things, and some of them mean something to them, and some don't. They just want to be a part of something. I used to do political fundraising, and I thought, "Okay, yes, I do want to give back." I started fundraising back in 1982, and I've been fundraising ever since. I went from being a chapter fundraiser to becoming the state fundraiser in 1987 for the state of Indiana. I still hold that position. I not only hold it as a position, but I hold it in my heart because I know the importance of the fundraising that we do. I know the importance of the advocacy work that we do. I know the importance of the community outreach that we do. I know that we have a purpose, and there is nothing that I would not do to build this organization. The Federation has made a significant difference in my life, and I want it to touch the hearts of everyone that I meet who is blind, who feels that they can't do anything to give back to other blind people. I want them to know that there is something you can do, and whatever you do, no matter how small a project it is, it's worth it. It's worth it, and we thank you.
Being a blind wife is just like being a sighted wife. When we got ready to get married, my pastor looked at me and looked at Ron—some counselor, you know—and he said, "You know what? I really don't think you two know what you're getting yourselves into. Ron, you can't even take her to the grocery store. You can't take her shopping. I mean, you can't give her the lifestyle she's accustomed to. Why are you two getting married?"
And Ron, trying to be real nice, said, "You know, pastor, I work every day, and as long as I've got money in my pocket, I can pay for a cab to take her anywhere she wants to go." I think that getting married to Ron was one of the best things that I did, and I think that being a part of this organization and him introducing me to the Federation was indeed a highlight of my life. I love and appreciate all of you. I thank you, and please, check out my new book, Not without Question by D. J. Brown. Don't ask me what that D stands for because I won't tell you. But you can get the book from me, from my website, notwithoutquestion.com, from Amazon, from Kindle. It's at Barnes & Noble, it's on Books-A-Million, so get the book, read it, and please post your comments about it. I'm interested in what you'd like to see next and how you enjoyed the book. Thank you very much. I love you.