[Nfbnet-members-list] A Letter to the NFB Community from the Special Committee

Ronza Othman rothmanjd at gmail.com
Fri Apr 30 16:28:27 UTC 2021




En Español [2] | Audio Version [3] 

you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, you are not alone.
The National Sexual Assault Hotline offers free, confidential support,
24/7, at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or at online.rainn.org [4] 

We are writing to you as the members of the Special Committee established
by the National Federation of the Blind. We believe it is important to
update the NFB community about who we are, why we agreed to serve on this
committee, and the work we are undertaking. 


The Board established the Special Committee on January 6, 2021 to oversee
and direct an internal investigation of allegations of sexual misconduct by
NFB members, participants, or staff at NFB or NFB-affiliated events or
facilities, including its affiliated training centers and its state
affiliates - as well as the adequacy of the response to such allegations.
The Committee is examining all previously adjudicated NFB Code of Conduct
complaints involving sexual misconduct and reviewing matters that have not
been submitted through the Code of Conduct process but have come to the
attention of the Committee. We are examining complaints involving the NFB
itself, the three NFB affiliated training centers, as well as NFB
affiliates and programs. 

The Special Committee will generate a report, which will be made public
around the time of the NFB National Convention, with our findings and
recommendations. The report will not disclose the identity of transgressors
or victims/survivors. The purpose of the Special Committee is to gather a
group of experienced individuals and leaders from within the NFB membership
who can use our collective understanding of the organization's history and
structure to effectively determine what occurred, assess how NFB officials
handled cases of sexual misconduct, determine whether patterns and trends
exist that require systemic change, and recommend organizational and policy
changes to prevent sexual misconduct cases from occurring in the future.
The purpose of the committee is not to take the place of the external
investigator, Tonya Baña. 

The Committee has already made certain recommendations, which have been
implemented and will be discussed in its report. For example, the Committee
recommended that the NFB eliminate the one-year filing deadline for Code of
Conduct complaints during the pendency of this investigation. 

It's important to underscore that the Board gave the Special Committee full
authority and freedom to conduct its investigation. The Special Committee
has full access to all internal records, staff, and anything else it deems
pertinent. We are confident that we have the autonomy necessary to oversee
a thorough and independent investigation. 

The Special Committee has engaged the services of Kramon & Graham [5], a
Baltimore-based law firm, to conduct the needed interviews and advise the
Committee accordingly. This firm has a well-established reputation and
extensive experience conducting independent investigations, including cases
involving alleged sexual misconduct. The Special Committee is relying on
attorneys from Kramon & Graham to meet with individuals to gather
information about alleged misconduct and how cases were handled by the NFB.
The information collected by Kramon & Graham will inform the final report
of the Special Committee. To be clear, Kramon & Graham was not engaged to
defend the NFB against any allegations and its team reports solely to the
Special Committee. 

NFB has separately engaged an external investigator, Tonya Baña LLC, to
investigate individual cases involving sexual misconduct that have been
filed through the NFB Code of Conduct since mid-December 2020. Kramon &
Graham and Ms. Baña are not affiliated with one another and serve
different roles, and neither has been hired to defend the NFB. Read about
the NFB's response to these issues. [6] 


As this investigation continues, we need your help. We urge you to share
information about past experiences of possible misconduct or cases in which
NFB policies and procedures were considered ineffective or not followed. To
take action, we must hear directly from those who experienced misconduct
and those who witnessed it. We cannot act on rumor and innuendo. 

That information will help us develop a thoughtful plan to strengthen NFB
systems and policies to prevent sexual harassment and misconduct and
protect members. Individuals' personal information will be kept
confidential in the internal investigation. We encourage people to share
this information through the NFB Code of Conduct complaint process [7]. If
for some reason individuals choose not to use that process, please contact
Jean Lewis at Kramon & Graham at jlewis at kg-law.com. 

We recognize that some may find it difficult to share their experiences.
Please know that we are doing everything in our power to ensure that the
investigatory process is grounded in respect for survivors and based on
best practices for working with those who have experienced trauma. 

Finally, we ask the community's patience as we conduct this investigation
and develop recommendations to prevent sexual misconduct in NFB programs.
We urge the community to hold judgment on specific incidents until we
complete our investigation and issue our findings. We are deeply concerned
about the harm that discussing rumor and innuendo is doing to survivors and
want to ensure that they feel safe both in the community and engaging with
the investigation. 


Each of us are members of the NFB with a longstanding commitment to its
mission and work. (Please see brief bios about us below.) 

We believe in NFB's work and value the life-changing programs it provides
to thousands of blind people. We also understand that this is a pivotal
moment for NFB. We must make sure that NFB provides a safe environment to
ensure that those who come after us benefit from NFB's programs. We
recognize that we must do a full accounting of where the organization
failed in the past before we can change policies and protocols to ensure
the safety of all those who engage with the organization in the future. 

We are confident that we have the ability and professionalism to oversee
this investigation, and we will not hesitate to make difficult
recommendations. We believe these recommendations and findings will lead to
important new safeguards that will protect the community that each of us
has tirelessly served. We will continue our work over the next several
weeks and will report to the NFB community around the time of the national

Thank you for allowing us to work on these important issues on behalf of
all members of NFB. We hold the safety of all blind people in mind as we
advance this important review of our movement. 

Ronza Othman
 Denise Avant
 Tim Elder
 Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum 


Ronza Othman (she/her/hers) manages and oversees the staff and work of a
Federal agency's anti-discrimination and anti-harassment complaint program,
including conducting investigations, implementing a conflict resolution
program, providing training, and issuing decisions on the merits of
complaints. Ronza previously served as a national subject matter expert and
coordinated programs related to integration of post-9/11 communities and
countering violent extremism for the Federal government. She also worked
for several years in Illinois as a county prosecutor, focusing on sex
crimes and domestic violence. As a trauma survivor, she is committed to
helping other survivors and has volunteered on a sexual assault and suicide
crisis hotline since 2004. 

Ronza serves as the President of the NFB of Maryland and as the Chairperson
of the NFB Blind Federal Employment Committee, 1st Vice President of the
National Association of Blind Lawyers, and a member of the NFB Diversity
and Inclusion Committee. 


Denise Avant (she/her/hers) is an attorney who served for 30 years in the
Office of the Cook County Public Defender, working in appellate and
post-conviction units. Prior to that, she worked for two years at the Will
County Legal Assistance Program, Inc. in Illinois. 

She is 1st Vice President of NFB of Illinois and serves on the NFB Board of
Directors and the NFB's Diversity and Inclusion Committee. She also serves
on the board of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, a division of
the NFB. She was recently selected to serve on the Board of Directors of
Access Living - Chicago. Denise is also chair of the American Bar
Association Commission on Disability Rights. 


Tim Elder (he/him/his) is a San Francisco-based civil rights litigator
focusing on disability discrimination cases through his firm, the TRE Legal
Practice. He has helped secure injunctions against testing entities for
their failure to accommodate disabled students, negotiated groundbreaking
settlements with publicly traded companies, tried employment discrimination
claims before juries and argued before federal trial and appellate courts.
He holds leadership positions in the American Bar Association and the
National Association of Blind Lawyers, and he actively works to promote
diversity within the legal profession. 

Tim is President of the NFB of California. 


Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum (she/her/hers) is the Managing Partner of Brown
Goldstein & Levy, a Baltimore-based law firm. Sharon has represented the
NFB and its members for many years. She is a passionate and forceful
advocate for individuals with disabilities and their families who confront
barriers in education, high-stakes testing, employment, housing, and
accessing state and federal services and supports. Sharon has represented a
range of entities that provide supports and services to individuals with


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