[MD-AtLarge] Meeting Reminder & Homework for May
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Wed Apr 22 17:54:35 UTC 2020
The meeting information for tonight's 8 pm call is:
The meeting ID is:
This is a meeting on the Zoom platform.
Below is the article that we will discuss at our meeting on May 19. Happy
Philosophy in Practice
by Angela Howard
>From the Editor: As part of transcribing the address given by Angela
Frederick at the 2019 National Convention, I looked for other things she has
written and found one splendid offering about her work with homeless people
in Atlanta, Georgia. It first appeared in The Student Slate and was
published in the Fall/Winter issue in 1999. Angela is a fantastic writer,
but it is the experience she details as much as the writing that persuades
me that this article should be in the November issue. I hope you enjoy it as
much as I do:
When Martin Luther King, Jr. was growing up in Atlanta, he rode the public
bus across town to school every day. Segregation laws forced him to take a
seat in the back of the bus, even if the seats in the front were vacant.
Unable to do anything about the situation at the time, Dr. King decided to
leave his mind in the front seat and promised himself that one day he would
put his body where his mind sat. Years later, Dr. King led African Americans
in a movement to put an end to segregation.
The blind do not endure the segregation laws that once confined African
Americans to the back of the bus. But, due to negative attitudes about
blindness, we continue to endure a kind of spirit-squelching segregation
that has threatened to confine us to a world of high unemployment and social
isolation. Members of the National Federation of the Blind have developed a
philosophy that has directed us to move toward a life of complete
integration and full participation in society. Our movement for equality at
one time demanded that we march and campaign in order to be heard, and this
is still sometimes necessary. But, more often today, our struggle takes
place in the work and play of our everyday lives. As Federationists, we
struggle to put our bodies where the Federation has led us. We struggle for
the opportunity to participate fully in our homes, schools, and communities.
Recently, my Federationism led me to a most special place. I spent the
summer living with the homeless of Atlanta. The Open Door is a community of
religious leaders and former homeless people who live together in service to
those who are on the streets. I took part in this community as a resident
intern. In the Federation, we like to say that blind people possess the same
range of personalities that any cross-section of society would produce. I
have become convinced that this holds true for every other group in society
as well. I faced the same struggles against negative attitudes living with
homeless people that I do in any new community in which I become a part.
Most assumed that I would hold a marginal position in the community, and in
the beginning, none expected from me what I was capable of producing. It was
up to me to break down those walls that threaten to steal our right to full
My struggle against negative attitudes began the first night I moved into
the house. The woman assigned to be my spiritual advisor reviewed with me
the general rules of the house. She then suggested, "We thought you would be
good at handing out hard-boiled eggs to the homeless people at breakfast."
When I learned what my schedule was to be for the following week, it became
clear to me that passing out eggs during breakfast was the only job they
thought I could handle. After three days of handing out eggs from 6:00 to
9:00 a.m. and having nothing else to do for the rest of the day, I decided
that things were going to have to change.
I began to voice my belief that I could do much more than hand out eggs. I
also developed another strategy for solving this dilemma. I was beginning to
get to know many of the people living in the house and could sense which
ones had the most faith in my ability. When I noticed that one of them was
doing a certain job, I would sneak over and ask them to show me exactly how
the task was performed. I even got them to let me try. Then during breakfast
and lunch circles when certain jobs were delegated, I would raise my hand.
"Are you sure you can do that, Angela?" they would ask.
"I've done it before," I would say.
My strategy worked. I found my schedule for the following week to be much
Phone and door duty is one job that is frequently delegated to resident
interns. The responsibilities of this assignment include answering phones,
answering the door, and supervising our homeless friends as they pick out
t-shirts and socks from the sorting room. As you can guess, the leaders of
the community did not consider the possibility that a blind person might be
capable of meeting this challenge.
By the end of my first week, they decided that I might be able to answer the
phones. I assured them that I could write out the important phone numbers in
Braille and deliver messages personally rather than writing them out. They
agreed to let me give it a try.
By the end of my second week, they trusted me to answer the phones, but
fulfilling the other responsibilities of phone and door duty was out of the
question. Another helper was always assigned to answer the door for me. I am
not proud to admit this, but even I was not sure that I could handle the
responsibility of managing a room of people who are often under the
influence of drugs and who are known to try to get out of the house with as
many things as they can. Pretty soon, however, all of us in the house
learned a valuable lesson about blindness.
Phone and door duty is often a demanding job. I found myself quite naturally
falling into the role of assisting the person in charge of managing the
folks coming in and out. This gave me the opportunity to develop some
alternative techniques for getting the job done. For example, I learned very
early on, because it was not possible for me to describe someone visually, I
needed to have another method of identifying the people I was letting in.
When a homeless person would come to the door and ask to be let in to grab a
t-shirt, I would ask for his or her name. This practice also helped me to
develop good relationships with the regulars who came through our doors. I
found that people appreciate being called by name rather than being directed
by a finger. Developing relationships of mutual respect with many of the
regulars put both them and me at ease. Soon, supervising the sorting room no
longer seemed like an impossible feat.
My biggest challenge was figuring out how to keep people from taking more
items than they were permitted. When people are struggling to meet their
most basic needs, they are often forced to try to survive by manipulating
others. Some of our homeless friends have been known to get out of the door
with eight pairs of socks instead of one. I found that since I couldn't
monitor with my eyes how many pairs of socks someone was taking, it was
easier for me to hand them the socks myself. I also learned to listen for
clues that would tell me if someone were trying to get out with an extra
shirt or two, such as a bag rustling too long or too many coat hangers being
moved. I do not think that these alternative techniques were entirely theft
proof. I am sure that some of our homeless friends snuck out with an extra
shirt or two. But, it is an understood rule at the Open Door that our
friends will leave the house with extra things. The key is to not let it be
excessive. My alternative techniques worked, and after a few weeks, I was
entrusted with all of the responsibilities of phone and door duty.
Phone and door duty was a most unpopular job among the resident interns. I
hated doing it as much as anyone else. But, being expected to do the job
gave me a sense of satisfaction that ran much deeper than my hatred of
performing the task. Being assigned to phone and door duty meant that I was
needed. It meant that expectations of me were as high as they were for any
other resident intern. And, perhaps most important, it meant that I got the
chance to complain how grueling the job was right along with my peers.
Creating allies in our friends and associates is an essential component of
achieving full participation. Befriending the other residents of the Open
Door, as well as many of the homeless people we served, helped me in my
struggle for equality. Many volunteers stopped by the Open Door at random to
help us out. Coping with the negative attitudes of new people day in and day
out was a difficult challenge for me this summer. My roommates and I used to
joke that we had to hear the amazing blind person speech every time someone
new walked through the door. On several occasions, a new volunteer assumed
that I was one of the people she was supposed to help. I found, however,
that as those living in the house began to understand my struggle, they
participated in helping me to educate the new folks.
Every morning after we served breakfast to the homeless, we would sit down
with our own breakfast and reflect together on how the morning had gone. We
learned many lessons about blindness during these reflection times. One
morning I had been assigned to hand out tickets in the yard to those who
wanted to come in for breakfast. A volunteer, who had just arrived the night
before, shared in her reflection time that she was amazed that I could go
out into the yard and hand out tickets.
She said, "I am afraid to go out there, and I can see."
We in the Federation know that the "even I" compliment is no compliment at
all, and I was preparing to give a little speech on the subject. Much to my
surprise and delight, however, my housemates in the group picked up on the
fallacy of her logic and called her on it.
One man said, "It ain't got nothin' to do with sight. You're just scared of
homeless people, and we've gotta help you with that."
At that moment, I felt like a teacher whose student won the national
spelling bee. Not only did my friends inside the house help me to educate
people about blindness, but I found that my homeless friends also helped me
to educate others in the neighborhood. I had one friend on the street who
was particularly special to me. His street name is Bear. Bear is a crack
addict and the most widely respected and feared person in the community. As
one man put it, "Every homeless person and policeman in the city of Atlanta
knows Bear." Bear has a gift for being brutally honest and is a champion for
justice in his own way. Once a man who had a reputation for paying homeless
workers illegal wages came into the yard and asked who wanted a job. Many of
the men began begging him to let them work, and it was Bear who said, "Don't
let that man take your dignity." It came as no surprise to me that Bear
would help me in my struggle for equality. Bear became my good friend and
helped me to educate others. When someone would make a nuisance of himself
by trying to help me too much, I would politely try to manage the situation.
But Bear did not believe in sugarcoating words. He would say in his gruff
voice, "Shut up, she don't need no help." Bear disappeared for several weeks
in July, and when I saw him again, he was excited to inform me that he had
seen people from our national convention downtown. I had told them all about
the National Federation of the Blind and about our convention. "I saw all
them people you were talking about downtown last week," he told me with
Bear and the other homeless people I befriended at the Open Door made this a
summer I will cherish for years to come. I am grateful to all of my friends
in the Federation who continue to push me to put our philosophy into daily
practice. Let us continue to put our hands and feet where the Federation has
taken our minds.
Sharon Maneki, Director of Legislation and Advocacy
National Federation of the Blind of Maryland
The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland knows that blindness is not
the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the
expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles
between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want;
blindness is not what holds you back.
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