Posted on January 28, 2016

It was an honor and a privilege to be a part of NABM’s inaugural Emerging Leaders Training Conference.  We met in New Orleans, LA in December. 27 people attended the training from 16 states.  The purpose of the training was to begin to train and brainstorm with emerging talent from around the country.  The goal was to bring people together who are the future and lay the foundation to develop a plan for strengthening the RS program.  As we know many people do not plan to fail, they just fail to plan.

We had several excellent speakers at the training.  Speakers included Nicky Gacos, Ed Birmingham, Dan Frye, Fred Schroeder, Michal Talley, Gary Grassman, and Terry Smith.  Pam Allen, Director, Louisiana Center for the Blind, and Joanne Wilson, Former RSA Commissioner, had us take personality profiles and did a wonderful presentation helping us all see how our personality traits affect our leadership styles.  We also had a lively exercise on attitudes toward blindness. Joining us by telephone were Janet LaBreck, Eric Dell, Deanna Jones, and NFB President Mark Riccobono.  Special guest speakers included Michelle, Cullison, a social media director, John Couret, from Toastmasters, and we were honored to have General Russell L. Honore, who was in charge after Katrina. It was an All-Star lineup for sure.

The group discussed a large variety of topics.  We examined the program and how different it could be if we united as one body across the country. We talked about how much better pricing would be if we used our buying power.  We would be able to solve more problems in less time if we network together and make better use of our resources. We also discussed leadership, what it is and why it matters, growth of the program, vision of the program’s future, and how all of these concepts working together would have an effect both on blind venders as well as how we effect the sighted world.  We also discussed advocacy and how we can be effective self-advocates.

It was an awesome event to launch what we feel is the future of the Randolph Sheppard Program.  I was very impressed by the leadership and organization of NABM and the NFBEI throughout the entire event.  It was created and hosted by NABM, but participation was not limited to NABM members nor were members from any organization barred.   One thing the vast majority of blind venders I speak with believe the future will never be as good, bright, or as profitable as it could be as long as we are divided.  An optimal future can only happen when we end the division that has hindered, dampened, and slowed progress throughout our program for too long.  It’s time we stop letting the opinions of a few hold us back from a future that we have worked so hard for.  We can and must work together to make the Randolph Sheppard Program the best it can possibly be.  Anything less is a failure.