[Nfbnet-members-list] Love Conquers Hate: An Open Letter from President Riccobono to Members

National Federation of the Blind webmaster at nfb.org
Sun May 31 18:57:37 UTC 2020


National Federation of the Blind logo and tagline live the life

An Open Letter to the Members of the National Federation of the Blind

I write this message to you as the elected 
President of the National Federation of the 
Blind. I also write it to you as an American who 
is struggling this week. I call upon members of 
our organization to recognize the solidarity we 
share as blind people and that the value we place 
on love within our movement is needed more today 
than at any other time in our history.

I watched the horrific video shot by a brave 
seventeen year-old of the killing of George 
Floyd, a citizen of our great nation. Before I 
watched the video, I wondered what I could do and 
how I could contribute to healing the pain. I had 
no answers. After I watched the video, I realized 
I still did not have the answers and I was sad, 
angry, scared, frustrated, and without hope. Then 
I realized that we share tools in the National 
Federation of the Blind that can help. We can not 
look away and we need to share what we know from 
our experience in this people’s movement.

Our movement has been sustained for the purpose 
of serving as a vehicle for collective action by 
the blind of the nation to promote the 
vocational, cultural, and social advancement of 
the blind; to achieve the integration of the 
blind into society on a basis of equality with 
the sighted; and to take any other action which 
will improve the overall condition and standard 
of living of the blind. While racial equality in 
our nation is not within our mission, we also 
recognize that blindness affects all races and 
that the society we live within has an impact on our membership.

The Federation’s 
of Conduct specifically emphasizes our 
commitments to diversity. In short "We respect 
differences of opinion, beliefs, identities, and 
other characteristics that demonstrate that blind 
people are a diverse cross section of 
society...In promoting a diverse and growing 
organization, we expect integrity and honesty in 
our relationships with each other and openness to 
learning about and experiencing cultural 
diversity. We believe that these qualities are 
crucial to fostering social and intellectual 
maturity. Intellectual maturity also requires 
individual struggle with unfamiliar ideas." This 
week, I have been struggling to comprehend the 
fear and anger that black members of my 
Federation family are experiencing. I do not, and 
never can, have the authentic lived experience 
that you have, but yet I am also completely 
outraged by the hate and injustice that fell upon 
George Floyd on Monday. I recognize there are 
many centuries of painful layers wrapped up in 
that moment. I recognize that George is neither 
the first nor the last in a chain of injustices 
that need to be addressed. I want you to know I 
stand with you in facing the injustice that 
persists against you because of the color of your 
skin. I want you to know that I love you and I 
struggle with not being able to fully know your 
pain and fear. I want you to know I am prepared 
to be guided by you as to how I can make a 
difference. I cannot say that I have not become 
desensitized in times past, but I can tell you I will never turn away again.

While our organization is dedicated to advancing 
the rights of blind people, we should not act as 
though race does not exist. As our chapters 
attempt to do business, as we urge our members to 
take up our priorities, we should recognize that 
thousands of our members are impacted by the 
painful realizations of this week. As a people's 
movement, we cannot pretend that our people only 
have one characteristic. Now is the time to let 
each member know we love them and we recognize 
their hurt. Now is also the time for us to 
recognize, as individuals, that we carry implicit 
bias learned from the society around us, and to 
seek the training that will enhance our 
awareness. Now is the time to give love to our 
black members so that we might learn how we can 
do better in building the understanding that 
powers the organized blind movement.

Now is not the time for us to use our 
organizational communication tools to offer 
position statements about the activities playing 
out on the streets of our nation. it is easy to 
write messages and posts of solidarity without 
having a true understanding of the issues. It is 
easy to suggest that we share the concerns of our 
black members. The harder thing for us to do is 
to consciously listen and seek understanding 
while supporting others in their pain and 
frustration. The Federation has never been known 
for merely doing what is easy. The priority today 
is to ensure all of our black members know they 
are welcomed and loved in this movement. In fact, 
we should extend that same truth to any others 
who feel the real pain sweeping our nation. 
Please do not use organizational assets to enter 
the dialogue around race. That is not our purpose 
as an organization and we may unintentionally 
make it worse. We need to continue to coordinate 
messaging and to be guided by the wisdom of our 
diversity and inclusion committee. As leaders of 
our movement, we should also be conscious that 
our public posts may be misunderstood as 
representing the Federation. Our personal 
feelings and misunderstanding around the death of 
George Floyd, the protests sweeping our nation, 
and the underlying systemic discrimination may 
hurt and divide members of the organization. We 
cannot let that happen and we must be careful as 
leaders not to add to the pain our members are 
experiencing. As it relates to our public 
messaging, let us stay focused on the priorities 
of the organized blind movement. As it comes to 
our cherished friends, let our priority be to 
reach out personally to listen and offer our hands in support.

I have had the opportunity to gather virtually 
with some of our top black leaders­a group who 
will continue to guide my actions related to 
these issues. I asked them for wisdom and love in 
finding ways that I could guide our membership 
during this trying time in our nation. Their 
message was clear. Our movement is built on love 
and love always conquers hate. The Federation 
family needs to shine a light for the rest of the 
nation by continuing to demonstrate that the 
love, and solidarity, that we share with each 
other in this movement makes all the difference. 
They also noted that our organization has always 
valued civil disobedience and persistent pursuit 
of equality. They urged that we continue to pray 
for peace, justice, and equality. I could not 
agree more with these friends I have been blessed 
to learn from in our movement. Furthermore, I am 
thankful that we have a movement that provides us 
a meaningful opportunity to know people whose 
lived experience is so different from our own 
while sharing a common bond as blind people.

In the National Federation of the Blind we know 
that blindness is not the characteristic that 
defines us or our future. Blindness is the thing 
that brings us together but it is not the thing 
that makes us want to stay together. That, in a 
word, is love.  We have love in our movement and 
we strengthen it by giving it. We have some 
wisdom and we strengthen it by continuing to seek 
greater understanding. We need more of both love 
and wisdom at every opportunity. Let's continue 
to share love, hope, and determination with each 
other so that together we transform our dreams 
into reality. One of those dreams still left tobe 
transformed is that of a nation where we can join 
together regardless of our unique 
characteristics. That is a dream I am struggling 
to help my own children understand so they may do 
better than I in making it come true. I speak for 
all of our national board members when I say we 
sincerely believe that the love and togetherness 
demonstrated in our movement can go a long way in 
contributing to that dream. It can be hard to 
remember that in this moment when so many of us 
are hurting, angry, frustrated, and scared. Let 
us continue to support each other in the 
Federation family. Let us avoid the harmful 
language that will only serve to divide us in 
this time. Let us go forward together, love one 
another, and change the world for the better.


Mark A. Riccobono, President

National Federation of the Blind

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