The Students Speak

From the Editor: In the final weeks of Dr. Jernigan's life a number of students wrote to him, and in the days following his death there was an outpouring of recollection and calls to rally in time of sorrow on the student division's listserv that was touching and that must have made Dr. Jernigan's heart glad. Here is a sample of the letters and messages:

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Jim Portillo

Jim Portillo

Greetings to Everyone,

I definitely feel the loss of Dr. Jernigan. He meant a lot to me as a teacher, mentor, and friend. I first heard of Dr. Jernigan in early 1990 and wasn't sure what to think of him and the movement known as the NFB. I then wrote him in the summer of 1990 to ask him some questions and see if he would really write back. I was curious what he would tell me and how he would answer my questions. To my surprise I received a prompt answer to my letter, and that began a wonderful correspondence, which would lead to a great friendship and teacher/student relationship. I continued writing, and so did he. I would always inform him of anything new that happened in my life as a high school student, and he would always give me some of that great advice he is known for giving. He also would criticize my letters for their grammar, spelling, and Braille errors. I never took this criticism harshly, though. In fact, every time I would write him, I would want to make sure I would come as close to an error-free letter as I could. If it wasn't errors, Dr. Jernigan would comment on my writing, style, etc. He later told me that he did this because he wanted my writing to be the best it could be.

After about five years of questions and letters, Dr. Jernigan finally convinced me to attend the 1995 NFB convention in Chicago. As leery as I was, he helped make the trip as smooth as possible. That's where I met him in person and where I began learning more about myself as a blind person. He took time out to talk to me and made sure I was OK. Every time he and Mrs. Jernigan saw me around the convention area, they'd stop me to see how things were going. Dr. Jernigan then told me that he and I would have a chance to work together some time in the near future, and that happened ten months later, in May of 1996.

I got to spend an entire week with Dr. Jernigan. He grilled me on English and grammar, talked to me about everything and anything he could think of, introduced me to the Braille Lite, and gave me an in-depth tour of the NFB and what he did. He had me barbecue on a grill for the first time and introduced me to fine wines and wonderful food I had not heard of or eaten. Most of all, he planted the seed which would later sprout and make me desire to better myself as a blind person by obtaining training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind.

I got to see Dr. Jernigan for the last time in July, and I'm glad I did. I somehow was at peace with his death because I had my chance to say goodbye to him, even though neither of us called it that.

He will always hold a special place in my heart. He's given me more than I could ever imagine, and I will greatly miss him. I will do what he said and help keep the movement alive and keep it moving forward alongside everyone else involved with the cause. My condolences to Mrs. Jernigan, the Maurers, and all of us Federationists who knew and were affected by Dr. Kenneth Jernigan.

Jim Portillo