Braille Monitor                         October 2020

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Mississippi's Sam Gleese: Continuing to March Forward in the Movement

by LaShawna Fant

LaShawna FantFrom the Editor: LaShawna Fant is a very active member of the Mississippi affiliate, serving as the president of her chapter and as the second vice president of the affiliate. She has been a member since 2011. LaShawna is employed as a teacher of blind students and all of this she balances with family and says, “Akin to priceless treasures, unmovable jewels are placed on my heart whenever I spend time with family.” Here is what she says about one member of our Federation family she and we all love:

Representative John Lewis is quoted as saying, "Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe even many lifetimes, and each one of us in every generation must do our part. And if we believe in the change we seek, then it is easy to commit to doing all we can, because the responsibility is ours alone to build a better society and a more peaceful world." These profound words also chronicle the purposeful life's mission of Sam Gleese.

Minister Gleese is a native of Mississippi. He was born legally blind and became totally blind in September 1979. In 1982 Reverend Gleese became a member of the National Federation of the Blind. He was soon encouraged to attend the national convention. The following year he reluctantly traveled to Kansas City to attend his first national convention. He had never seen so many white canes and guide dogs in one place. This national convention was transformational and aided him in knowing that "It is respectable to be blind."

In 1986 Sam Gleese became the affiliate president of the National Federation of the Blind of Mississippi. One colossal reason was his mentor Dr. Kenneth Jernigan who talked with him and urged him to hold the position of affiliate president for two years. The thought of being state president had never crossed his mind. President Gleese assumed the role and started blazing the trail of leading the Mississippi affiliate until 2016.

Sam GleeseHis most memorable national convention occurred in 1992. During this convention, he was elected to the National Board of Directors. The moments after his election were very overwhelming for him. On top of this, his new role weighed heavily on him because he knew he had to be a representative for every member of the organization.

As a member of the board of directors, one in-person board meeting occurred every year around Thanksgiving weekend. He expressed fond memories when describing the homemade ice cream and desserts. Moreover, he marveled when explaining how the board and their families functioned as a family. He stated, "It was like having a family get-together back home." His last year serving on the board was 2014.

Former President Gleese was delighted with the 2020 National Convention. He remarked, "I never thought we would have a virtual convention, and it is something I will never forget." He was grateful to attend sessions and do things he would have done in person. The 2020 National Convention reminded him of the 1983 Convention and boldly highlighted how things could be accomplished with adjustments.

Our friend Sam is now retired. Besides living with blindness and diabetes, he has a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease. Like a real fighter, he rises daily to devote half of his day to reading and helping others. He educates many on the Medicare system and helps guide them on being a self-advocate.

Talkative and an encourager are two adjectives describing him. As a child he was quiet, but he became more outgoing after joining the National Federation of the Blind. He likes to encourage people to get involved and learn about our organization's history and philosophy. "The NFB teaches us not to give up, to always be informed, and to know our rights. We need to also be supportive of our members because this helps us to survive," proclaims Gleese.

In conclusion, our longtime leader, colleague, and friend says: "Learn all you can. Apply it to your daily life. Interact with other people both sighted and blind, because we are part of society, and we need to learn to interact. Do not let people mislead or discourage you by saying it is difficult to live life blind. We need to take up the challenge and move forward. Blindness should not be the thing that holds you back."

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