Happy 75th to the NFB of South Carolina
This year, as usual, the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina will kick off the fall convention season with its state convention, which starts today in the state’s capital city of Columbia.
It’s a special convention because the affiliate is celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary. Established as the South Carolina Aurora Club of the Blind in 1944, it became part of the National Federation of the Blind in 1956, the year its longtime president, Dr. Donald C. Capps, attended his first national convention in San Francisco. The NFB of South Carolina is my home affiliate, so I am pleased to wish my fellow Federationists in the Palmetto State a heartfelt happy anniversary.
I joined the NFB of South Carolina in 1989, although I had been aware of its influence in the state prior to that time. It was the summer before I started college, which I was spending in the training and work-experience program run by the South Carolina Commission for the Blind. Some of the adults responsible for running the program, including its director, Frank Coppel, who is now the affiliate president, encouraged me and my good friend Parnell Diggs, himself a future affiliate president, to come to the state convention.
In the spirit of raising expectations, when Parnell and I asked how we would get there, they gave us directions to get to the convention hotel by bus. I had never taken a city bus before, and rarely traveled in the big city of Columbia without being shadowed by an orientation and mobility instructor. Parnell had misgivings for similar reasons. But working together, we followed directions and got to the hotel without incident. We were exhilarated by this taste of independence. I also vividly remember being impressed by the leadership and eloquence of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who spoke to the meeting of the student division and gave the banquet address in his capacity as national representative. I joined the student division, and since that time I have always been a member of a chapter or division of the NFB.
It is often said, and bears repeating, that the affiliates are the heart of the Federation. I count myself lucky to have grown up in the NFB of South Carolina because its leaders and members modeled for me the Federation’s values and helped me, in countless ways, to become both the blind person and the Federationist I am today.
Dr. Capps, along with his wife Mrs. Betty Capps, who is sadly no longer with us, modeled love and respect. His constant encouragement and steadfast support in all my endeavors, from applying for an NFB scholarship to attending the Louisiana Center for the Blind to starting my career, were invaluable. When he needed to teach this young Federationist lessons, which was often, his instruction was always firm but gentle. He and Mrs. Capps also modeled inclusion through their tireless work to recruit members and leaders who reflected our state’s diversity, and by making everyone welcome with graciousness and charm. I don‘t know how many miles the two of them drove over the years to find blind people in the most rural and remote corners of South Carolina, and bring them the Federation’s message of hope.
Dr. Capps often said that he would not ask others to do things that he would not do himself. From him, and my other fellow South Carolina Federationists, I learned that it takes all kinds of work at all levels to run our organization. Leadership doesn’t just consist of making speeches or running meetings. It is also selling barbecue tickets, soliciting donations, preparing food or snacks for a meeting, and more. This work not only builds our organization but strengthens our fellowship with each other. When we South Carolinians worked together, we always had fun, too.
I had the opportunity to visit a convention of the South Carolina affiliate a few years ago, and I can report firsthand that it’s still going strong. I always enjoy catching up with my South Carolina Federation family at national conventions. Most importantly, I am deeply grateful that an invitation to join the NFB of South Carolina was extended to me in 1989, and that I took it. It has improved my life immeasurably. I hope, in everything I do now, that I am helping others in the same way.