One of my mentors is Ever Lee Hairston, a Black leader who has taught me about the power of persistence, positivity, and self-pride. She marched alongside the great civil rights leaders of the 1960s and 70s and when she became blind, she started applying her powerful, positive, and prideful approach to the organized blind movement. Today, she serves as the senior board member of the National Federation of the Blind.
This month I am thinking about the speech I heard Ever Lee give to a program of two hundred blind youth. We stood in an epic downpour at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, but when Ever Lee took the microphone the rain stopped, and she had everyone’s attention. She encouraged all blind students to lift every voice and bring their unique individual efforts to a collective movement. She said, “It has not been easy, but I had to keep on marching.” It is one of the most powerful moments of collective action I have ever experienced. I am proud to have the honor of marching with her daily in our movement.
“Lift Every Voice and Sing” was written by the Johnson brothers and first performed in 1900. The older of the brothers, James Weldon Johnson, was a lawyer, diplomat, professor, prolific writer, and poet. In describing the power of this beautiful anthem, he noted many years later that it had the effect that all good movements have on the human spirit, "Someone heard it, was moved by it, and kept on singing." This is what we intend to do together, for blind people, through the National Federation of the Blind.
As we celebrate Black History Month by learning from our Black leaders, we recommit ourselves to doing more in this movement to enhance diversity and inclusion. We strive every day to ensure that all blind people can lift their voice and the diverse choir of the National Federation of the Blind is our strongest vehicle for amplifying the voices of blind people.
Thank you for your role in helping us lift every voice and sing.
Mark A. Riccobono, President
National Federation of the Blind
Celebrate our Black Leaders
The National Federation of the Blind members drive our diversity and inclusion efforts, and our 2020 National Convention included numerous events hosted by blind people who possess a myriad of characteristics that celebrated our different experiences as well as our connections. Not Blind to Color in the Federation: A Panel on the Experience of Black and Blind in America, was a highlight for many attendees and helped us to understand how the intersectionality of blindness and being Black plays out inside the Federation and more broadly in our country. Many other events demonstrated and celebrated the diverse groups within our movement while focusing on strategies for increasing acceptance and inclusion.
The NFB Diversity and Inclusion Committee previously created Black Leaders Serving for Advancement to develop and mentor new black leaders within our community at all levels.
Denise Avant, one of our board members, shared her thoughts:
“Black History Month is a time of reflection. People like Dr. King, Rep. John Lewis, and many not so well-known names sacrificed so much that I could eat in the restaurant of my choosing, travel freely on buses and trains all over the United States, attend whatever college I wanted, and vote for the candidates of my choice. They showed great courage in the face of violence and hatred to gain equality for Black Americans. The struggle for equal rights and equal treatment goes on. But these great men and women set an example for me as I advocate for the civil rights of blind people in America. Giving just a little bit of my time and talent is the least I can do. I am proud to serve on the Black Leaders Serving for Advancement subcommittee, which is part of our Diversity and Inclusion Committee. We are doing great work to show all of our members and the public that the National Federation of the Blind welcomes and celebrates diversity and inclusiveness and that we fight for the civil rights of all blind people, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other characteristic.”
Read more about diversity and inclusion within the blindness community and the Federation in Future Reflections, Volume 39 Number 2, Special Issue on Ethnic and Cultural Diversity.
Latest News at the NFB
Congratulations to our 2020-2021 Scholarship Program Winners
The National Federation of the Blind recently announced the winners of our 2020 named scholarships, which were awarded at the kickoff meeting of the Washington Seminar on February 8. The winner of the top prize of $12,000, donated by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults and named in memory of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, is Precious Perez, an aspiring music educator from Massachusetts.
Read more about the other winners and their career goals or fields of study.
Raise the Wage Act Introduced
Section 6 would end subminimum wage certificates for workers with disabilities.
The Raise the Wage Act, H.R. 603, was introduced by Representative Bobby Scott, Chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, on January 28, 2021. One of the key aspects of this bill is Section 6, which would discontinue the issuance of 14(c) certificates and gradually increase the minimum wage for disabled 14(c) employees over a period of five years until it is at least at the level of the federal minimum wage. At present section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act allows employers to pay disabled people less than the minimum wage. We strongly support Section 6 of the bill because it would provide opportunities for workers with disabilities to be competitively employed and participate more fully in their communities.
Access Technology Affordability Act (ATAA) Introduced in the House and Senate
Introduced in the House on January 21 and in the Senate on February 5, the Access Technology Affordability Act legislation removes an employment barrier commonly experienced by blind Americans who cannot afford the high cost of access technology by creating a refundable tax credit in the amount of $2,000 to be used over a three-year period to offset the cost of these technologies. Read More about the ATAA in our press room.
Accelerating Accessibility in 2021: Blind Driver Challenge
On Friday, January 29, the National Federation of the Blind celebrated our tenth anniversary of the Blind Driver Challenge and the first blind driver to independently drive 1.5 miles. As part of the celebration this year, we are prioritizing nonvisual accessibility in regards to driverless technology. Learn more about the Blind Driver Challenge.
Meet Our 2021 Teachers of Tomorrow
The National Federation of the Blind is excited to announce the class of 2021 Teachers of Tomorrow. This is an immersive, professional development program that connects teachers of blind and low-vision students to the lived experiences of blind people, equipping participants with knowledge about the skills and attitudes that can help students thrive in school and beyond. Meet the 2021 Teachers of Tomorrow!
NFB BELL® Academy In-Home Edition to Be Offered
We are once again excited to be offering our NFB BELL Academy, In-Home Edition for the summer of 2021. This year, students will be organized into classes based on their prior knowledge of the Braille code, which means we will be better able to offer challenging and fun content for Braille learners of all levels. The NFB BELL Academy is appropriate for students ages four through twelve; applications for the 2021 program will be opening later this month. Learn more about the NFB BELL Academy.
Take Action This Month
Throughout our local chapters and state affiliates to our national headquarters and diverse committees, the National Federation of the Blind is an organization of collective action. Here’s what you can do to get involved this month.
- Complete the Diversity and Inclusion Survey: 2021 Diversity and Inclusion Survey (English) & En Español: 2021 Encuesta sobre Diversidad e Inclusión. If you have questions or need assistance with the survey please connect with [email protected] or call 410-659-9314 extension 2413.
- Learn about our Washington Seminar priorities for 2021. Each year Federation members educate our representatives in congress about legislative priorities important to blind Americans. This year we focus on digital accessibility.
- Read our flagship magazine, the Braille Monitor.
The following events are scheduled for this year. All events are open to members and nonmembers. We welcome your participation.
- February-June 2021: Accessibility Boutiques and Seminars
- March 1 and April 1, 2021: Presidential Release Live 8:00 p.m. ET (Spanish translation and CC available)
- March 24-26, 2021: The Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium, virtual
- March 31, 2021: Scholarship Application Deadline
- July 6-10, 2021: National Convention, anywhere and everywhere