Second Thoughts

by Brian Miller, Treasurer, National Association of Blind Students

Imagine yourself at the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) national convention.† Now, imagine that you are wearing a ribbon designating you as one of twenty-six (now 30) scholarship winners.† Then, further imagine, if you will, that this is the second time you have been allowed to sport such a ribbon, that you are, in fact, a tenBroek Fellow.† You always imagine that the second time you speak before the National Board and the assembled multitudes of Federationists will be your shining moment.† It will be a chance to succinctly and glibly express how much the NFB has meant to you since you won your first scholarship.

Some months later, you find yourself offering your friends five dollars for their tape copies of the Braille Monitor with your speech in it.† Your remarks were recorded in real time so all can replay, word for word, throughout all eternity, the inane ramblings you blurted out in front of thousands of people. This is certainly not the case for all second time scholarship winners.† But, I have to confess to feeling as though I needed a third shot at the microphone if for no other reason than to say once and for all just how much the NFB has meant to me.†

The NFB has, since 1995, designated two to three of its annual national scholarships specifically for second time winners. Those chosen to receive a second scholarship are referred to as tenBroek Fellows. There are now 15 tenBroek Fellows roaming around.† As of this year in Atlanta, I was honored to be able to count myself among this group. Being a scholarship winner once is such an honor and a privilege.† Being selected twice makes you look around to see if a plague hasn't inexplicably carried off all the other applicants, leaving you standing there a winner by default.† False humility, you say? It is always easy to croak out some words of cheery modesty about not being worthy when you're standing in the winnersí circle. You may patter on about how so many others are more worthy, but at the end of the night you still get to go home with a large sum of money, and, for this year and next, a Kruzweil scanner.†

But wait, there's more to the story.† Being a tenBroek fellow is about much more than money. When the NFB awards you a second scholarship, the organization is in effect saying that you are not only a sure bet to do well in school, in your career, and in your community, but that the National Federation of the Blind is, and will continue to be, a stronger movement with you involved in it.

As we all know, in any civil rights movement, economic resources must be invested with great care.† This allows the greatest impact in the present, and ensures the future of that movement. This is not to say that the NFB scholarship program is merely an investment plan, in which the NFB expects a return of 2.5% above prime.† Human beings are not mutual funds, after all, and scholarship winners are certainly not required to pay back the cash they receive.

However, anytime a blind person succeeds in his or her career, we all gain a margin of respect and greater opportunities.† Even so, what we quickly learn is that when we pool our resources, share our stories, and make our successes part of the common property of our collective endeavors, our voices are amplified, and our accomplishments normalized to a skeptical public. As you may have noticed, there is little in this piece about the specifics of being a tenBroek Fellow, though I would be happy to show some of you the secret handshake at Washington Seminar. Truthfully, there is only one real difference the second time around, and that is that you come to national convention with a suitcase full of humility.

In 1996, when I strolled into Anaheim to receive my first scholarship, I imagined myself to be a unique and singular creature, i.e., a successful blind guy. I quickly discovered that I was entering a movement chock full of successful blind people. I learned, (to rephrase Sir Isaac Newton) that we travel so far only because we ride on the shoulders of giants.

The fact that we have a scholarship program at all is due to decades of work by those who have been leaders in our organization.† It is these individuals who fought for our right to even be students at the post-secondary level. Everyone needs money, but a few thousand dollars can never buy you the security, opportunity, and equality our movement has struggled to obtain. Who then among us, tenBroek Fellow or otherwise, cannot spare a pound of flesh (measured in time and commitment) to make sure that the next generation of students has the same chances we have?

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