“I love politics; that’s what I do. I had the privilege of working in Texas for Senator Wendy Davis’s gubernatorial bid, where I got a lot of field experience. I was the first blind person to actively work with the Texas Democratic Party doing field work. Had it not been for the training I received at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, I wouldn’t of had the skills or the confidence to be able to perform my job. Half of our time as blind people is spent trying to prove to other people, to our sighted counterparts who really do mean well, that we are just as capable, and that we can do our jobs just as efficiently, if not better.“
Born in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai was 15 years old when she began teaching arithmetic and literacy skills to young women and teenagers in her home country. Unlike in the United States, equal education is not something that’s enjoyed in Pakistan. No. For her efforts, one summer afternoon—on her way back from teaching these young women—she was shot in the face by the Taliban. Malala survived that attack, and she went on to win a Nobel Peace prize at the age of 17 for her efforts.
When I read Malala’s speech to the Youth Takeover of the United Nations, one of the many things that struck me was when she said: “I raise up my voice not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…We cannot succeed when half of us are left out.”
I think that the struggles underserved populations face are often the struggles that we as the blind of America face. I met the National Federation of the Blind in 2009 when I was a 17-year-old, snot-nosed high school student. I signed up for a summer work program at the Texas School for the Blind, and was assigned a job site: Mentoring Coordinating Assistant with the [National Federation of the Blind of Texas. (I will preface this story by telling you that I was the first, and last, student in that capacity to hold that job, because I stayed after the internship. Apparently, that’s not what the school was shooting for.)
However, that is where I met the Federation and I got involved.
I come from a family where glaucoma is prevalent. My grandfather was blind, my brothers are blind and so is my father, who was the first one in our family to come to the United States in 1991. He knew that his children would be blind, and he wanted them to have equal educational opportunities. He has no formal education, but he got himself through seminary in the United States—with very little accommodations—and received a certificate to be a minister. My dad has been an ordained minister for the last 23 years, and he also does music production…which he taught himself to do as a totally blind guy. So, my father has been a big influence in my life, but I hadn’t met other blind people that had gone to college, were holding jobs and were succeeding in what they do.
At the Louisiana Center for the Blind, I gained confidence in myself as a blind person. It was a difficult six-and-a-half months learning to use computers, cook, sew, do home repair and travel independently all under sleep shades, but my parents always taught me that whatever is worth doing doesn’t always come easy. Self confidence, I learned, is one of the biggest tools toward independence that we as blind people can have. Other people won’t believe in us if we don’t believe in ourselves.
Armed with that confidence, I joined the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas at the age of 18, making me the youngest-serving board member at the time. I’ve had the privilege to serve as the 2nd Vice President of the affiliate, and I’ve been serving as the President of our Texas Association of Blind Students since 2012. One of the reasons I’m so involved is because I have tried our philosophy, and let me tell you: it works. What we have to offer will truly transform your life
I love politics; that’s what I do. I had the privilege of working in Texas for Senator Wendy Davis’s gubernatorial bid, where I got a lot of field experience. I was the first blind person to actively work with the Texas Democratic Party doing field work. Had it not been for the training I received at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, I wouldn’t of had the skills or the confidence to be able to perform my job. Half of our time as blind people is spent trying to prove to other people, to our sighted counterparts who really do mean well, that we are just as capable, and that we can do our jobs just as efficiently, if not better.
During the campaign, we did a lot of neighborhood canvassing. Some of the older volunteers were “phone-banking,” because summer days in Texas easily surpass 100 degrees. My field organizer came to me one day and said, “Well, you know what, why don’t you learn phone-banking so that you don’t have to go out and canvas with us?”
I knew this guy well enough, and I knew that he was thinking that sitting at a desk, inside, in a familiar environment and talking on the phone would be an easier task for a blind guy than walking a neighborhood, finding sidewalks, knocking on doors, and talking face-to-face with potential voters.
My reply to our field organizer, thanks to my fiery nature, was brief and curt: “I think not.”
I went out to lead a canvasing team through a neighborhood about which I had very little information, and we were the team that collected the most signatures and voter registrations that week! It would not have been possible if I didn’t have the blindness skills in cane travel and self advocacy that I needed to be a successful adult and volunteer for others.
When I met the National Federation of the Blind, I was a 17-year-old Hispanic, blind kid, who didn’t know that I was going to college. The only reason I enrolled in college was because a short, skinny blonde lady by the name of Kimberly Flores told me one day, “Boy, you’re going to college.”
The National Federation of the Blind of Texas invested in me. And I know this organization will invest in you.
With a little bit of hard work, determination and the positive philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind, you can live the life you want.