Dear Fellow Federationists: First, let me say I hope you are healthy and safe and following all of the social distancing guidelines. These are challenging times and your top priority must always be the health of you and your family. I am saddened to say that across the country the Federation family has lost a few members to the deadly coronavirus. Others are gravely ill as are family members. We need to keep them in our thoughts and prayers. So far, I have not heard of any of our members in Tennessee who have been infected. If there are, please let me know how we can help. This will pass and we will come out of it better and stronger. In the meantime, we need to do what we can to help anyone who becomes ill or needs our help to stay safe.
Under normal circumstances, I’d be writing as a last minute reminder about our state convention coming up this weekend in Clarksville. We were so disappointed to have to postpone our convention. We were expecting a great crowd and had an outstanding agenda planned and a huge exhibit hall. However, it wasn’t’ meant to be. If we had not postponed it, Governor Lee’s recent executive order would have forced to us so we made the right decision. We have made no plans as far as a new date is concerned. We are waiting on the hotel to provide us with some alternative dates. We are most likely looking at a fall convention. What will this mean for the 2021 convention? We have always met in the spring. Will this be the start of our transitioning to fall conventions? The alternative will be to have 2 meetings within 4 or 5 months of each other. This will have to be taken up at our convention for the body to decide.
The National Office is encouraging the Affiliates and national divisions to move to the Zoom platform for conference calls and virtual meetings. Zoom can do so much more than the free conference calling services to which we have become accustomed. They are paying for an account for each Affiliate. It will offer great potential for us. I plan on discussing with our Board but see a great opportunity to start holding statewide meetings on a regular basis. It will be a great opportunity to reach out to non-members and give them a chance to see what the NFB is all about. It will help us communicate better in between conventions. And the training opportunities are endless. You will be hearing more about this on down the road.
Last, night NFB President Mark Riccobono held a call for all state affiliate presidents. He is doing these calls weekly during this crisis. He advised that the National Office has closed in response to orders by the Maryland Governor. However, employees are working from home and they are actively engaged in the day-to-day affairs of the organization. The Independence Market is closed indefinitely although the Free White Cane Program is being reactivated on a scaled back basis.
Many of you have asked me about the national convention scheduled for July 14-19 in Houston, Texas. Has it been cancelled? There has been all sorts of speculation. Part of that may have resulted when the convention registration site went down due to technical issues. The Center’s IT staff has been working diligently to get all employees set up to work from home so the registration site had to take a backseat. It is anticipated that the registration site will be back up this Wednesday. Is it still possible the convention will not happen? The situation with the coronavirus is fluid and we don’t know what thefuture holds. Leadership is doing the responsible thing and making contingency plans in the event holding the convention is not a realistic option. However, President Riccobono emphatically reiterated on the Sunday call that the plans for now are full speed ahead. If we can do a convention safely, then there will be a convention. So, mark your calendars.
This Thursday night, April 2nd, at 8:00 PM Eastern Time, President Riccobono will do the Presidential Release live. Everyone is invited to join this national teleconference. First established in 1971, the Presidential Release is a monthly message delivered by the President of the organized blind movement that is intended to be played at every local chapter meeting. This will be the first time the President of the Federation delivers this monthly message with a live audience present. You can join the call on Zoom at https://zoom.us/j/2368918214.
The Meeting ID is 236 891 8214
The One Tap Mobile number is: +14086380968,,2368918214#
Before leaving this topic, did you catch what I said about the Presidential Release is supposed to be read at each chapter meeting? I’m not so sure we do a good job of that. We are also supposed to do the Federation Pledge. Take note chapter presidents. Doing these two simple things is the best way to learn about what the Federation is all about and what it means to truly be part of the movement.
I do want to mention that Congress passed its coronavirus relief bill called
the CARES Act and the President signed it into law. The bill is intended to provide a bridge for the economy until things return to normal. The bill contains some nice benefits for small businesses which will include the blind vendors in the Business Enterprises Program. Loans that may be converted to grants are available and for the first time ever small business owners who are shut down can draw unemployment. I have been very involved in all of this. The NFB and its Merchants Division for whom I work lobbied Congress for a special relief package for blind vendors. It did not make it into this bill but Congress is already working on another bill and we are still trying. If I send out a Call to Action, please take the time to follow through. In the meantime, if any of the blind vendors have questions about the relief passed by Congress this past weekend, they can contact me.
Last week, I reported that all of the NFB Centers are still open. That is still
the case; however, no new students are being accepted until further notice. The health and safety of those traveling and the residents at the center demanded it. These are tough times for the centers but they are alive and well and ready to gear up when we defeat this virus.
At the bottom of this page is the NFB One Minute Speech. It appears at the bottom of everything I send out. Every member should memorize it because it captures the NFB philosophy more succinctly than anything else. And here’s an idea. They say everyone should be washing their hands for 20 seconds. Although it is called the One Minute Speech, it only takes 20 seconds to recite it. So, rather than sing Happy Birthday next time you wash your hands, try reciting this.
This is the third Presidential Update in March. Don’t worry. I won’t be filling up your inboxes that often in the future. There’s just a lot going on and you need to know what your state affiliate and national office are doing. Until next time, stay safe.
Terry Smith, President
The National Federation of the Blind 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.