SHAWN CALLOWAY: Good morning, everyone. This is Shawn Calloway. First and foremost, I have the honor of presenting our next speaker. Last year, 2020, after the death of George Floyd, this individual that I'm presenting today was confused and could not understand how such an unjust act could occur. So he contemplated and thought about what he could do to make a difference. Even though the decision he made was to support his Black members of his organization and to support other members that are diverse from his organization as well, he thought about this and he knew that he wouldreceive some backlash in his support, but he did it anyway. He put himself out there. And as an African-American member of the Federation, it was comforting to know a leader stood up for us in this trying time. Even in this space of diversity and inclusion, after the death of George Floyd, people need to understand that a lot of companies and organizations were throwing out money and wanted to have this discussion on diversity and inclusion in 2020. But little did we know that he had started this discussion back in 2018 because he felt that his organization needed to open spaces for his diverse population within his membership. Some of us failed to realize that this man puts a lot of time into advocating for blind people. Not to mention that he has to manage 50 affiliates, 16 divisions, several committees, and a national staff. More importantly, he's an outstanding husband and a father of three beautiful children. I am so humbled and honored to present President of the National Federation of the Blind, Mr. Mark Riccobono.
MARK RICCOBONO: Thank you very much, Shawn, for that introduction. I really appreciate it. It is great to be back with our Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium even though we can't be in person. I know this time last year, many of us, myself included, were really struggling with the fact that we had to postpone last year's gathering. So I'm really proud to have the opportunity this morning to bring this community back together again. And Shawn, thank you for your continued contributions to the disability rights work that we do and your leadership in making sure that diversity and inclusion stayed centered in everything that we do.
The National Federation of the Blind was built by Jacobus tenBroek, a constitutional law scholar, a blind person, who believed deeply in the power of diversity, of organizing, and of expanding the understanding that was embodied in the United States constitution. We built this symposium in his spirit, to serve as a community to expand disability rights in new ways.
Despite our good intentions in those efforts, after our last Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium in 2019, we had to examine closely, not just our good intent, but the effect of our not digging as deeply as we could. In fact, the not intentionally directing our actions to get where we all wanted to be. Participants in this forum came forward to challenge us to do better, and I use "challenge" very much in the positive sense of stretching, not in the sense of threatening. So I want to begin this symposium coming back together by thanking those who took the time to give clarity and voice to concerns that needed to be heard.
They needed to be heard because they are helping to make this symposium, our community, better. They needed to be heard because we had not gone far enough despite our good intent. On a personal level, I want to thank those who signed the letter of April 5, 2019, especially those who were able to take the time to personally sit with me and firmly yet kindly help to expose the disconnect between my own intent and the effect of my failing to be intentional in my actions to lead in the disability rights community. The truth is, the April 5 letter was the first time that I had been presented with some of the concerns that were raised, and I admit my initial reaction from my place of privilege was to feel that it was not fair to be held accountable for addressing concerns that I just simply did not know existed. That of course was my knowledge base of ignorance. I appreciate those who helped me to reframe my understanding that the opportunity to address the concerns was not dependent on what I felt I should have known earlier or should have been made aware of in the past, but, rather, what I was going to do with the information that was in front of
me in the present.
I was ashamed, frustrated, and frankly disappointed at what I had missed. Two years later I'm still disappointed that we have not yet gone far enough along this pathway of understanding, making the disability rights community a true leader for all communities. However, I come to this symposium truly energized, motivated, and really filled with hope by what we are doing together to move more aggressively toward that future of diversity and inclusion that we all seek in the disability rights community.
We in the National Federation of the Blind need your help along this journey. We recognize we cannot do this alone. But we are working hard to do more than our fair share in this effort. We also recognize that we're not done yet. There are more changes to be made. Let me tell you real quickly about just a handful of things that we've done to prepare for this symposium as a result of our conversations of a couple years ago. As we committed in our April 12, 2019, letter, we reexamined our process for gathering data and evaluating the effectiveness of the symposium, and we did so by working with a researcher, a disabled researcher of color, who helped us to reframe and gather information in that 2019 evaluation. Some direct actions that came from the evaluation data that you all gave us 2 years ago are: We increased our marketing of the symposium to other entities, including historically black universities. We emphasized the diverse speaker recommendations, and many of those recommendations that were given have been incorporated here into our meeting this week. We have shortened the plenary sessions to allow more time for workshops. We have moved away from having a single moderator throughout the entire symposium. We are featuring a more diverse array of attorneys and non-attorneys with lived experiences in these areas. We have increased the participation of younger and more diverse panelists and presenters. We have added networking opportunities, and we certainly could expand upon that even further once we get back in person.
Now, this is just a start. We recognize that we're not done, and we need to continue to be guided by your continued active participation in the work that we're doing here together. In our 2019 evaluation, we received many offers of support from those of you out there who want to help. Unfortunately, that survey was anonymous, so we will be much more intentional going forward about gathering and creating clear pathways for you to volunteer your efforts to this community and our symposium.
We do encourage you to give instant feedback by using the #JTBLaw on Twitter and Facebook. We will be circulating another post-symposium survey, and we do hope that you'll continue to be honest and reflective in your comments about how we can continue to build this community. We continue to examine all of the work that we're doing and look for ways to dig deeper, to make sure that this community is one that we can build in new and dynamic ways. Maybe, for example, we need to have a JTB Law extended edition so we can pack all of these topics not just into one meeting but throughout the year.
And, in fact, one thing we're really interested in is having you share some unconference topics that we can use to create a JTB Unconference meeting in 2021. More broadly, as a civil rights organization that is more than 80 years mature now, the National Federation of the Blind continues to seek growth and change. Many of you in this gathering reached out during the last 4 months with questions after a flurry of activity among the community of people with disabilities. As a leader, as a father of three children, two of whom are blind, I again struggled with disappointment. Why had I not made more happen before then?
In 2020 I'm very comfortable saying that I finally started to get it. And Shawn alluded to this already. The George Floyd video, shot by a brave 17-year-old, who decided not to turn away, was the thing that finally helped keep me focused in the right direction and grounded where I needed to be focused. Watching that video, which I've only watched once, but has been burned into my memory even now a year later, it clicked for me that the key to my intentional actions was to never turn away. No matter how hard, no matter how uncomfortable conversation.
That is what we have been doing with diversity and inclusion in our organization, and now in examining, reflecting, building new pathways based on the concerns of survivors of sexual misconduct within our movement. We've put together a survivor-led task force that's guiding our actions, including reframing and revamping our organization's Code of Conduct, which by the way you can find at NFB.org/codeofconduct. And just this week, in addition to starting anti-bias training for our leaders, this week we've started working with our partner at RAINN to train 1,000 members of our organization in the next month on sexual misconduct prevention techniques and discussions.
And again, like with diversity and inclusion, we recognize this is just the beginning of our being intentional about taking actions to make our community strong, safe, and a leader in these areas. We recognize we don't know it all. And today the Federation again calls on each of you to be part of leading these changes, these intentional actions, these conversations for the disability rights community alongside us.
How do we make the disability rights community as broad, deep, safe, and strong as possible? How do we center our work on a cross section of disability intersectionalities? For that matter, how do we leverage the allies that we have whose characteristics are perceived as being in the majority to serve the purposes that we have in the disability rights community? We do not yet know all of the answers. And this symposium is not meant to address them all. But it is an important part of contributing to the conversation.
So I want to thank each and every one of you for being here, for being part of leading the way to making the disability rights community a case study for all communities in how to address these difficult topics. I certainly want to thank all our speakers and presenters who have committed their time to this symposium as well. Now, to guide these discussions today, I am very proud to introduce to you Milton Reynolds. He is an educator, activist, and author from the San Francisco Bay Area. He formerly served for nearly two decades as senior program associate with facing history and ourselves. Prior to that, he spent more than 10 years as a middle school teacher. As someone with an education background myself, I appreciate what that brings to the conversation. Mr. Reynolds' background also includes working as an equity communications consultant and an educational researcher and curriculum design specialist. He is dedicated to improving dialogue and implementing innovative solutions to address difficult social issues such as race relations, juvenile justice, disability rights, and environmental concerns.
He in his work is committed to sustaining a high level of community engagement. He has a strong interest in understanding how the legacies of collective history manifest themselves in the institutional practices that structure our present society. Considering where we are in this time and the opportunities in front of us in the disability rights space, I believe his keen combination of skills and lived experience are going to contribute significantly to what we want to do collectively in this symposium.
It is now my honor and pleasure to turn over our virtual stage for this year's JacobustenBroek Disability Law Symposium to Milton Reynolds