[nabs-l] Action Plan, Part 4

Joe Orozco jsorozco at gmail.com
Thu Jun 4 21:02:06 UTC 2009


Dear all,

1. The Student Slate

In my opinion, no job in the NABS board is more frustrating than the
editorship of the Student Slate.  Thankfully, I have never had to wear the
hat of editor for the newsletter, but I have in some way assisted with its
revision and compilation for the past four years.  You will of course notice
that in the past four years the publication of the newsletter has not been
consistent, and while it may be all too easy to blame the editor, perhaps
even the board as a whole, for not doing their job, I assure you the blame
is completely your own for not writing an article when articles have been
requested.

It's ironic really.  On the NABS-L list alone you might come across twenty
posts from a single individual telling you the same thing twenty different
times in the course of a single day.  Some people wonder where they find the
time to post so much.  I wonder why these people haven't written articles?
This is not a rhetorical question.  If the shoe fits, talk to Jennifer
Kennedy about how to submit something for publication.  Unless things have
changed, it was my understanding she wanted to put out another issue prior
to convention.

I offer two alternatives:

A. Impose a moratorium on the Student Slate

Every national organization should have a regular publication, but if this
cannot be done, put it to sleep temporarily.  Instead, come out with a
monthly briefing.  ...  I know, you're thinking that if we can't get our act
together on a publication that is supposed to be published four times a
year, how in hell are we going to push one out once a month?  People assume
a publication has to be long and brimming with information.  It does not
have to be written that way.  A simple update on the state of the division
would suffice.  A word from the president letting the membership know what
the board has been doing and what it is planning is sufficient.  Think of it
as a condensed version of the Presidential Releases Dr. Maurer puts out for
the organization at large.  Even a well-written, well-organized one-pager
would keep the masses happy, because it lets them know that their board is
doing something beneficial.  Later, when the division picks up steam and the
Student Slate can be revived, feel free to bring it back.

B. Turn the Student Slate into a magazine format

If the idea of putting the Student Slate is too much of a break from
tradition, consider changing the overall format of the publication.  Right
now we have five or six different stories of people doing great things in
their lives.  I think this is fine, but after a while we must surely realize
that there are only so many ways to be an awesome blind person.  As much as
I enjoyed the Kernel book series, I was not all that sad to see it end,
because many of the stories are of the type of material that can be found in
the Braille Monitor.

So, consider beginning special columns.  You can have an interview column
that focuses on the accomplishments of a board member or another leader in
the NFB, or consider going out and interviewing someone who is not in the
organization but who is still doing something great with themselves.  I
wouldn't mind reading an interview from Ginny Owens or David Paterson.  Now
you're probably thinking it would be too hard to interview those people.
Begin with their publicist, chief of staff, publisher, depending on the
nature of the person's profession.  You could have a column on emerging
technology.  You could have another column on fashion sense and socializing.
Another column could focus on following our legislative progress.  Dear
Abby?  Remember, this is a student publication.  The idea is not without
merit, especially if the inquiries are of the variety related to blindness
that some people are too shy to ask.

Whether you go with the first suggestion or the second, you need not feel as
though you yourself have to be generating all the news.  Sometimes
newsletters focus completely on the noise other people are creating, but the
news is validated because it is coming from you.

If partnerships are established, you can elevate your publication by
incorporating the developments of those organizations.  Using last
installment's examples, you could reprint an article from Sports and
Recreation's Competition Corner.  You could help promote an event for the
parents.  In either case, you can expect that the gesture will be
reciprocated, and any opportunity to expand your scope lends you the perfect
opportunity to further highlight the funders that will begin to invest in
your cause with all the popularity you slowly begin to accumulate.

2. Awards

Hard work should be recognized.  Just as the state affiliate with the
greatest number of registered convention participants is given a banner, the
state student division with the greatest number of registered students
should receive a banner or certificate or trophy or some other type of
incentive.  Maybe a contest should be arranged to find the best looking
banner?  In either case, this begins to set up a friendly competition among
the state divisions to recruit and bring the most number of members they can
to convention.  Alternatively, recognize state divisions for simply doing a
good job regardless of the number of people they bring to the national
convention.  Some states may not have the numbers but do wonderful things to
keep things happening in their states.

I like the idea of the Blind Bargains web site recognizing companies for
their innovative solutions.  Why could NABS not run a similar voting session
to recognize an exceptional DSS office, organization or company doing great
things on behalf of the blind population, particularly students?  Part of
making a name for your organization comes with building your own sense of
prestige.  You represent the greatest number of blind students in the
country.  Now take this claim and legitimize your position by handing out
certificates to groups deserving of your formal recognition.  If you are
successful at creating a good image for your activities, other people will
buy into your elevated position and will want to be associated with what you
have to offer.

And, where is the harm in recognizing rising stars amongst the student
ranks?  Some of you are really out there busting your butts, making a
difference and generally making the rest of us look good.  We should know
who you are, what you're doing and how we can learn from your success.  A
student of the year award would not be, in my opinion, out of line as a
well-organized promotion and recruitment tool.

Make these awards a part of the annual business meeting or winter banquet.
Create the right amount of hype around the occasion, and in no time this new
tradition could be manipulated to serve several important functions.

3. Community Service

Nothing builds character more profoundly than the satisfaction of working
hard to help others.  In the NFB we pride ourselves in helping other blind
people achieve higher levels of independence and self-sufficiency.  I
believe this should only be half of the equation.  The NFB philosophy is
primarily built on the notion that blind people can and should adjust to
society rather than expect society to adjust to the blind.  Therefore, in my
opinion, it is not enough to convince a person that it can be respectable to
be blind.  I believe the step beyond this persuasion is to show them how to
succeed despite being blind.  After all, it makes very little sense to
produce a fully competent blind hero if said hero is not given a means to
exercise his or her newfound skills.  To me, there is nothing more
discouraging than seeing an awesome blind person stay in the blindness field
because they feel that is the only field where they can continue to be
awesome.

So, I think we should take our philosophy a step further.  If we truly
believe that success is contingent on our adjustment to society, we should
make it our business to help society as much, if not more, than we help our
fellow blind people.  To that end I believe every state student division
should democratically select an issue the membership feels strongly about
lending their support.  These issues can be poverty and homelessness,
disaster prevention, civic action, health and fitness, etc.

Benefits:

A. Visibility

Blind people are all too often seen as the beneficiaries of social services
rather than the contributors.  What better way to discourage this general
notion than the active participation of blind people in social activities
that help vulnerable populations.  Earlier I said that state student
divisions should each select an issue, but I do not think it impossible for
NABS representatives to take time from National Convention or Washington
Seminar to prepare and distribute food for the homeless at a local soup
kitchen.  The argument will be made that there is already too much going on
during these national gatherings.  I would respond with a reminder that most
of the activities going on during these events are geared at promoting
independence, and there will never be a better time to make a statement of
this independence amongst ourselves and to the public than a concerted
effort at putting independence into practice in the company of blind people
with such a wide array of skills.  Maximum impact will always be achieved
away from the microphone rather than behind it.

Imagine yourselves participating in a walk-a-thon supporting the cause of
your choice with t-shirts sporting the name of your division.  It's a good
public relations technique wrapped up in social integration.  You'll make
new friends and therefore make yourself stronger as an individual while you
make NABS a stronger organization.

You will not weaken your division because you are not making community
service the centerpiece of your operation.  You are simply making service
the added bonus of belonging to the group and a convenient avenue to
practice what you preach.

B. Job Readiness

Blind people will have a more difficult task of finding a job if they have
never been given the opportunity to learn the basic skills that are not
taught in the classroom.  Budgeting, filing, e-mail etiquette, project
management and so on could be learned by reading a number of web sites and
enrolling in a few specialized courses, but if you do not have examples of
how these skills have been utilized, what good are they in your resume?
Volunteer opportunities do not always involve rolling up your sleeves and
picking up garbage along the highway.  You should do these activities at
least once anyway, because one of my more memorable bonding experiences came
about in a human chain as we worked to clear out trash from underneath a
church building.  Yet, you could help an organization build and maintain a
web site.  You could help them write press releases.  You could help a
teacher at an after school program tutor children.  Whatever the case may
be, pick a cause you and your members would enjoy doing and go out and do it
together.  You will grow closer as a group and learn to improve skills than
can later be used in the hunt for an awesome job.

C. Partnerships

In the last installment I wrote of the benefits of establishing
partnerships.  In this context, think of the visibility another organization
could help bring you through your participation in their activities.  The
Humane Society, the Red Cross, Boys and Girls Club, Boy Scouts, the American
Cancer Society are all prolific outfits that could benefit from your help in
exchange for publicity.  Your involvement in their activities could also
help generate more material for your fundraising efforts.  Sponsors like to
see what you're about, and while seminars to encourage blind students to be
great people are great things for us, a prospective funder will be much more
impressed if you can show how your preaching is ultimately helping your
local communities.  Find different ways to maximize your bang for their
buck, and perhaps even more importantly, find ways to have fun exercising
the NFB philosophy.  Volunteer service really can be exciting if you find
several ways to make it work for you and the organization you represent.

This concludes the list of changes I would have offered in my hypothetical
presidency.  As I've said, these were geared for the division at the
national level, but I hope I gave you enough of a glimpse of how they could
be implemented at the state level with equal efficiency.  So far there are
at least fifteen pages worth of ideas and suggestions anyone could take and
make happen both at the state and national levels.  Though the ideas may
seem elaborate, they are really nothing more than cumulative blocks that
work in sync with one another if properly coordinated.  My overriding theme
has been job readiness and collaboration.  Ultimately I believe the
membership should enjoy being a part of NABS and to a greater extent the
NFB.  The board ought to be able to count on partnerships with other
divisions, organizations and companies to make the work of implementing
these plans possible.  Other people could generate their own themes and
platforms and produce their own lists of objectives with equal or better
success if they only took the time to map it out.

There would be a few other minor things I would like to see implemented
regardless of who assumes the presidency of the national student division.
Create a division song.  Roll out bracelets or some other apparel.  Write a
division pledge.  Propose a division toast at the winter banquet.  In
essence, think of little customs and traditions that can be specific to
NABS.  Make NABS something cool to belong to, and keep it balanced, because
remember your audience can range from the five-year-old Kindergartner to the
fifty-year-old doctoral candidate.

I understand there are people in the ranks who believe my proposal is too
much to swallow on account of us being volunteers.  To these individuals I
say, "Come up with a better excuse."  The small group of volunteers who met
to dream of and conceive the National Federation of the Blind did not think
their vision was too ambitious, and their tasks in the thirty years
following the organization's establishment were far more complex and
daunting than my little rambling proposal as a whole.  I do not believe the
things I have outlined need to be implemented next week.  In fact, I believe
it would take a couple years to establish a good foundation, but the point
is that you have to start somewhere.  You have to take a few risks.  You
have to allow yourself to be held accountable.  You have to learn to want
and expect more, and you have to allow your ideas to be challenged and
changed by the people you will trust to get it all done.

But, we can cover these points in the next installment of my meandering
thoughts, where I offer my controversial views on student leadership.

To be continued...

Joe Orozco

"A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the
crowd."--Max Lucado
 

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