American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections Convention Issue 2015 NOPBC CONFERENCE
by Mark Riccobono
Introduction by Carlton Anne Cook Walker: Mark Riccobono has been dedicated to education and to blind children, long before he became the parent to two blind children himself. Now it's time for Kid Talk, so I invite all of the kids to come to the front of the room to ask questions of Mark Riccobono, the President of the National Federation of the Blind.
Mark Riccobono: Do any of you guys name your canes? What's your cane's name, Marly?
Marly: Mrs. Cane.
Mark Riccobono: Excellent! Does it have diamonds on it? Anybody else name their cane? Amelia?
Mark Riccobono: Is it musical?
Mark Riccobono: Well, every time I hear that tap-tap of those canes on the floor, it's pretty musical to me.
I'm glad you guys are here today. It's really a privilege to be able to sit with all of you. I have two daughters who are blind. They're five and three. They're not here at the convention. Isn't that sad? They're with their grandma. They're very happy with their grandma. Did you know we're celebrating our seventy-fifth anniversary? That's a long time, isn't it? Seventy-five years! You guys are the future leaders in our organization. You have a whole corps of people who have been working on your behalf. In fact, for seventy-five years blind people have been working for you to have the opportunities that you have right now and in the future. That means when you get above, say, four feet tall, you've got to start thinking about what you're going to do to make the world better for other people.
This seventy-five years is a diamond anniversary. Diamonds are really cool. They're one of the toughest substances on earth. It's hard to find anything that's tougher than a diamond. I think that each of you is tough. I think that no matter what you come across, you can overcome it. I believe all of you are diamonds. I've learned in the National Federation of the Blind that as blind people we're all diamonds. We're all tough, we all have beauty, and if we work together, we can really let our beauty shine. So next time you run into something that seems difficult or frustrating, just remember that you're a diamond and you're tough.
Do you guys have any questions for me?
Abby: Do you like lobster?
Mark Riccobono: Do I like lobster? To eat or to play with? To eat, yes! I love lobster!
Abby: Do you like to play with them?
Mark Riccobono: Well, my family went to Red Lobster recently. And they have all the lobsters in the tank there. They have their pincers with rubber bands on them, and the kids were speculating about which one would taste the best. Any other questions?
Anna: I'm going to high school next year, and in the lunchroom, how do you find people you want to sit with?
Mark Riccobono: How do you find people you're friends with? Here's what you can do. You can set up ahead of time with your friends that you're going to meet in a particular place; that's one way. Another way is to tell your friends ahead of time, "Hey, I'm coming to lunch, so look for me." It's okay to do that.
Anna: But what if I don't know anybody?
Mark Riccobono: Sometimes you just have to get into the mix and find out. One way you can get to know where your friends are is to ask other people if they know them. I know high school is particularly frustrating because everybody's wondering who's sitting with whom. Your goal should be to have the confidence to go in and talk with people and recognize that, regardless of what they may or may not think of you, remember that you're a diamond. Just get in there and talk to folks. Don't be shy about it, because you have something to offer them. All of us, as we're growing up, have times when we have to get into very difficult situations when we don't know people. It's a little uncomfortable. I have to go to big networking events where there are thousands of people! How do you find anybody? It's a process to learn how to start conversations and engage with folks, but it starts with believing that you have something to offer and not being nervous about what other people think. Does that help?
Anna: No, not really.
Mark Riccobono: Well, we'll talk about it some more. Any other questions?
Mikayla: I go to high school, and I want to tell Anna about it. I start talking to students that are next to me in class, and at the end of class I say, "Hey, what about lunch?" That's one way to start.
Mark Riccobono: It's been a long time since I was in high school, but I do remember high school lunch! Who else has a question?
Jackson: My name is Jackson, and I have two questions for you. First one, what are you going to do if you get to be president of the United States?
Mark Riccobono: Great question! I'm not prepared to speak on foreign policy, but I can tell you I would love to see a blind person in the office of president. I'd like to see more blind people in Congress. I once knew a blind guy who encouraged me to be president of the United States, but I don't have a great desire to be that. If you want to be the head of something, that is the first thing--you have to want to do it. You have to be willing to make the sacrifices; you've got to have the desire to do it. What's your second question?
Jackson: How many sit-ups can you do?
Mark Riccobono: How many sit-ups? Is this a challenge?
Jackson: I can do two hundred.
Mark Riccobono: Well, I've got a suit on. And I just had breakfast and all that. What kind of sports do you do besides sit-ups?
Jackson: I do swimming and wrestling.
Mark Riccobono: It's very important for people to be active. I think we should figure out how to get blind people into more sports that they haven't been in yet. And I'm going to practice my sit-ups in case you come back!
Jackson: Next year.
Mark Riccobono: Okay. We have to plan for this.
Arianna: Were you born blind?
Mark Riccobono: Yes. I have glaucoma and aniridia, so I have an eye condition that came from birth, but I wasn't legally blind until age five. Most of the time when I was growing up I didn't know I was a blind person. No one told me I was a blind person, and I was really good at faking that I could see. Anyone do that in here? Do you ever pretend you can see when you really can't? I heard someone say they used to. That's what I used to do. I was an expert faker. That was my sport, actually. It was very stressful. I was always worried about what I would have to see. When I met the National Federation of the Blind I learned that I didn't have to fake it anymore. That was so liberating! It was like a big weight lifted off me! I didn't have to fake it, and I could just be me. That's when I really started to do the things I wanted to do. So don't fake it. Remember you're tough, and let that beauty shine!
Danny: What other sports do you do?
Mark Riccobono: Right. Sports. Crosscountry skiing.
Danny: I do downhill skiing.
Mark Riccobono: You guys are always showing me up! I did downhill skiing one time. It was the bunny slope. I was not very good at it. Maybe you can teach me. Next year I'll be doing downhill skiing, so I won't be available for sit-ups. Sledding. I'm really great at sledding. And I went snowboarding once.
I really appreciate that all of you took some time to spend with me and challenge me to sports. I hope you all come by the Presidential Suite sometime this week. There is a LEGO box up there. It's very cool. I want you all to remember that each and every one of you is a diamond, that you're tough, that you have a bunch of people around you to create a beautiful setting where your beauty can shine. I'm looking forward to all the things you will do to make the National Federation of the Blind great.