The Difference a Mentor Makes

By Shawn Mayo, President, National Association of Blind Students

Editor's Note: The following speech was delivered by Shawn Mayo at the annual meeting of the National Association of Blind Students held as part of the 1998 National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind.

How many of you think you learn something new every day? How many of you have learned something new today at this convention? Tonight I would like to share some of the experiences from which I have learned, and some of the factors that brought me to the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).

My first interaction with other blind people came as a national scholarship winner of the American Council of the Blind (ACB) in 1993. Even though I was not required to, I attended their convention, and I had a great time seeing San Francisco! I think I attended only two sessions; one of which was the scholarship ceremony.

Upon returning home, I found myself with three big problems. First, I found myself elected to the national student board after joking about it at the bar. Second, I did not know why I should learn Braille. And, third, I thought it was okay if I did not use a cane, especially since I had some remaining vision. During the convention, when a group of students went out on a guided tour of the city, I was told that I should let a totally blind student use my arm as sighted guide because I had some vision—and it did not matter that I did not have any travel and cane skills of my own! By the end of the week, I thought the Department of Rehabilitation would take care of me. What's more, I had never even met my state president or any other leaders in the ACB. Now, I mention all of this not to bash the ACB, because we don't have the time to bother with that, but to illustrate the contrast between the two organizations that affected my choice to become involved in the NFB.

The following fall, I won a state scholarship from the NFB of Illinois. Immediately, I noticed a difference between the two organizations. I returned home from this convention questioning what I wanted for myself as a blind person. I wanted to read without getting ink stains on my nose. I wanted the positive attitude, confidence, and independence that was evident in so many of the people I had met. That next summer I won a national scholarship from both the ACB and the NFB. I attended the NFB convention and quickly found out it was not going to be a vacation spent sight-seeing in Detroit. I actually had the chance to meet leaders of this organization. They asked questions of me, and I had the chance to ask questions of them. They explained their philosophy to me; they were mentoring me.

Since then, I have learned a great deal about the NFB and blindness, and I continue to learn today. I selected a couple people as my mentors. To this day, I observe them. I ask questions of them. I challenge them, and they do the same to me. Other mentors have just stepped in without being specifically picked by me. At my first NFB convention, someone stopped me and showed one of the NFB's long white canes. This person took the time to let me use his cane and worked with me on using the cane properly and comfortably.

With any type of mentoring, there comes a responsibility. Having received mentoring, we must then commit our time to mentor others. It is part of the learning process which continues throughout our lifetime. It is, in part, what keeps the NFB going.

Now I will tell you how I first shared my new found philosophy. When I returned home from the NFB national convention, I received a phone call from the scholarship chair of the ACB. After he questioned and lectured me about not being at their convention, I told him what I had learned from the NFB—how Federationists had mentored me, and how I was proud to be blind, proud to be a member of the NFB, and wanted to exemplify Federation philosophy. It does not matter if this is your first convention or your fiftieth, there is always something new to learn. Why else would thousands of people return to our conventions every year? We come to learn—to learn the philosophy of the NFB, to learn about the issues affecting the blind, to learn about equality, security, and opportunity.

We in this room are part of the future of our organization. My challenges for you are these: 1) pick a mentor and let him or her know it, 2) take some of the things you learn at this convention and teach them to someone who was not here, 3) share ideas and network with others in the student division here and 4) have fun!

If you give a little energy to learning and teaching this week, I guarantee that you will grow more at this convention than you have in the last semester. The education you gain here through participating in the mentoring process will last a lifetime.

Back to top