Presidential Release #500, December 2020 English Transcript

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PAM ALLEN:  Good evening, we are excited to be celebrating the 500th presidential release tonight with all of you, President Riccobono, Dr. And Mrs. Maurer, and Mrs. Jernigan.
Just a reminder, everyone is on mute.  You can send questions through the Q&A section or send an email to  
Captioning is available here in Zoom and also on 1CapApp.  The information for the captioning is in the chat, if you would like to access the captioning at your own pace.
We have two questions for our poll tonight:  What is your favorite pie.  And our second question:  In what decade did you hear your first presidential release.
Welcome, and we will be starting soon.

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PAM ALLEN:  Good evening, everyone, and welcome.  We are so glad that you're here with us tonight.  Please answer our poll, which is what is your favorite pie.  Our second question tonight is in what decade did you hear your first presidential release.
We'll be starting at 8:00, and thank you again so much for being here with us tonight for this very special evening.

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      (Music playing:  "Live the Life")      

PAM ALLEN:  Good evening, Federation family!  And welcome to this very special evening.  We are so glad that we could all gather together tonight to remember and to celebrate this very special moment.
It is now my pleasure to turn it over for this historic event, our 500th presidential release, to our leader who always leads by loving example:  President Riccobono.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Good evening, Pam.  How are you?  Is it cold in Louisiana?
PAM ALLEN:  You know, it is chilly.  It was 27 this morning, believe it or not.  But sunny and beautiful and near 60 by the daytime.
MARK RICCOBONO:  There you go.  Well, I walked to the building this evening.  December is here!  No flurries yet.
PAM ALLEN:  Not yet.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Are you ready to get started?
PAM ALLEN:  We are!  I think we've all been looking forward to it.
MARK RICCOBONO:  I certainly have.
Greetings, Federationists.  Today is Tuesday, December 1, 2020, and this is presidential release 500.  Great number.
First of all, to start off, I want to set the context for where we are this evening.  We're in the living room/foyer space of the newly remodeled space, Barney Street wing.  We have a lot of close friends here this evening.  Well, not a lot.  A few.  Which is why I'm wearing my stylish NFB mask this evening.
Behind me is our 360-degree fireplace with a nice fire in it.  Behind that is the reflecting the flame artwork that we had commissioned for this new space and honoring the speech of the same title given in 1991 by our immediate past President.  And we're here in this space this evening because it represents a lot of our history.  And we want to reflect this evening on where we've been but also where we might go.  So it's an appropriate space to be in this evening.
I should say since we've been reminiscing about the releases, we do have a great team behind the scenes.  Will is always behind the board making sure our recordings go well.  Our director of communications is also here.  And of course a lot of people out in the Zoomverse making sure this happens.  So it's a pleasure to be with you all this evening on this special occasion.
Before we get to some dialogue about the presidential release itself, let me give you a few Federation notes to close out the year.  It came up on the last release the question about whether we had gift certificates in the Independence Market.  So I'm going to start with some notes about the Independence Market.  First of all, we still have Braille calendars available from the American action fund for blind children and adults, 2021 Braille calendars available while supplies last.  They will be available in the market until January 31 and not available after that date.  So if you have not yet gotten a free Braille calendar for 2021, you should call the market and get yours quickly.
Also, we do in fact have gift certificates available for the Independence Market.  These could be a great gift.  They're available for purchase in amounts of 25, 50, 75, or $100.  The gift certificates are valid for up to 4 years from the date of purchase.  You can get the gift certificate as a PDF that's emailed to you, or you can get it sent to you via the mail in Braille.  And you can get more information about them by sending an email to  Or of course you can call extension 2216 here at the national office.  And if you don't know the number, (410)659-9314.  The market will be open up until Christmas Eve, although I don't advise you wait until that databased on what's going on with the mail.  Some people are saying that if you haven't gotten something shipped already, it may not show up in time for Christmas.  So get your stuff ordered early so that it will show up on time.
A good piece of news to look forward to in 2021 will be the reemergence of our Independence Market website, where you can order products.  It has been down for some time.  We've been rebuilding it, retooling it into our new website.  We've been a little behind on that.  But you can look forward to our e-commerce portal coming back for the market in 2021.
Last month, American Education Week, which was November 16, we sent a letter to all of the top education officials in all of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.  You can read that letter by going to  That letter calls on the state education officials to recognize the critical barriers that blind students face in inaccessible educational technologies, and it calls them to take actions to make sure that blind students have equal access.
We have gotten a number of responses from some of the state educational officers, and we will be following up with those individuals and putting resources together.  If your state official has written to us, we're sending the response to the affiliate President for follow up as well.  As we know, education and access to education is so critical.  And in this time when digital technology has really been forced upon people because of the COVID pandemic, it's really important that we push hard for equal access.  And we're getting a good response so far.  That we've gotten any response at all is great, but we've gotten some real engaging phone calls from folks who are interested in what we have to say, and we're now going to put together some resources to help make good things happen.  So we'll need you to follow up on that on the ground in the new year.
Before we get to the new year, we do have a number of events happening.  We have a December open house.  The open house events are for prospective new members to learn about our organization, and we'll be having an open house on Sunday, December 13, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time.  And I encourage you if you are not yet a member of the Federation to sign up for our December 13 open house, and I encourage federation members to encourage those who are prospective members to take advantage of this opportunity to learn about the organization in a casual and engaging way.  That open house will be hosted by Pam Allen, so you won't want to miss it.  And thank you, Pam, for handling that December 13th open house, which I cannot be at because it's Austin Riccobono's 14th birthday.
If you want to sign up for the open house, send an email to or call extension 2509 here at the national office to get your name on the list and we'll send you the Zoom information.
Last month on the release, I announced our Smart City Summit meeting, which was scheduled for December.  Shortly after that, we had some changes that needed to be made so we moved it to January 28th.  And in moving it to January 28th, we're also going to take advantage of that being the day before January 29, 2021, which will be the tenth anniversary of the blind driver challenge.  The blind driver challenge was our effort to build a car that a blind person could drive, and the first public demonstration was January 29, 2011.  So our Smart City Summit will take advantage of that and maybe leverage some next generation activities with our blind driver challenge.  So if you're interested in the Smart City Summit, it will be happening in January, and more information will be sent to the listservs about that.
Our access technology team also has a number of accessibility trainings coming up.  We call these accessibility boutiques.  We have one on December 9th, which is entitled "Digital Accessibility Made Easy."  This is kind of an introduction to accessibility, how blind people use the internet.  It would be a good thing to refer people to that are developing technology or want to know how blind people use technology.  This is December 9 from 1:00-5:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
And then on December 15th we have "Tips and Tricks for an Accessible Smart Home."  That will happen at 2:00 p.m.  2:00-3:30 p.m., to be exact, Eastern Time.  Both of these are on Zoom.  Our smart home presentation will cover security systems, appliances, in-home applications, those sort of things.  So if you're interested in learning more about smart appliances, entertainment systems, ways that you can have more accessibility in your home, you can sign up for that.
Both of these you can go to our website to register for.  It's a very complicated URL, so I'm sure we'll put it in the chat.  But otherwise, go to and look for our accessibility boutiques under our programs and services.
Now, when we get into January, we will be preparing heavily for our Washington Seminar.  We have a new administration coming in.  We have a new Congress.  And it's important that once again the National Federation of the Blind show up to share our legislative priorities for the next Congress.  Our board of directors will be meeting this weekend to talk about many topics, including finalizing our priorities, legislative priorities, for the 2021 Washington Seminar, but I encourage you to plan to participate in the Washington Seminar during the second week of February.  But also, before that, we're going to be offering some training in January to get ready for the issues.  So please plan to participate.  We do expect this to be our largest Washington Seminar ever, and because of the virtual nature of it, really all members should be able to go to the meetings we're going to host with members of Congress.  And we are hopeful that we'll get a record number of members of Congress participating in the Washington Seminar.
Now, last month we celebrated on the release the fact that we had successfully matched a gift from the Freedom Scientific company of $50,000.  And shortly after that release, Tom Tiernan, the CEO of Vispero, the holding company for Freedom Scientific, called and said, we're not done yet.  We think we can do more than ever before, and we would like to offer another $50,000 to the Federation considering how significant this year is if you can raise another $50,000 before the end of the year.
So we have some work to do again, and really, if you didn't donate the first time, this is an opportunity once again for you to help out the Federation and have your contribution be doubled.  Today is Giving Tuesday.  Here's your opportunity not just today but if you give a gift before the end of the year, it will be matched by Vispero up to $50,000.  So we're making good progress toward this next $50,000 gift, but we do need your contributions to come in.  And I want to thank the number of chapters and affiliates and individuals.  I've seen a number of contributions come in today, but we still have some ways to go.  So please keep it up.  And I think we should give another thank you to Vispero for its generosity here at the end of the year.  The work that we're doing on employment and education and keeping blind people connected and protected during this year, more than ever these dollars are critical to what we do.
If you don't know, you can make a contribution online by going to  You can send a check to us here at the national office.  Our information is on the web.  But you can send a check to 200 East Wells Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230.  Or you can call our main number and dial extension 2282 and someone will get back to you to take your contribution.  It doesn't have to be made today, as long as it's made by the end of the year, that will help.
We do have some new chapters contributing to our Pre-Authorized Contribution program.  This is a monthly way to give dollars to the Federation.  So thank you to these chapters from the NFB of Ohio.  So heads up to Ohio.  Thumbs up to Ohio for being on the board alone this month.  Our seniors division, the capital chapter, and the Springfield chapter of NFB of Ohio, thank you very much.  And also our national division, the National Association of Guide Dog Users, thank you for joining the PAC program.
Okay.  I do have some Federation family notes here to share with you before we move in to the next phase of this very special release.
I regret to have to let you know that news from Georgia, that Mr. Manuel Rivas passed away on October 30th, 2020.  He had been a member of ours since 2017.
From California, Robert Stigile, who is President of the San Fernando Valley chapter, reports the passing of long timing member Tom Grimsley on November 22.
And from Minnesota, Jennifer Kennedy, executive director of our training center there, BLIND, Incorporated, reports the passing of Federation member and BLIND, Inc. graduate Michelle Erikson at the end of October.  Michelle was married to Mark Erikson who works at BLIND, Incorporated.
I encourage you to keep these Federation members and their families in your thoughts and prayers, and a special acknowledgment for all of those Federation members that we have lost this year, especially to the COVID-19 pandemic.  So please say an extra prayer for those who have contributed to our movement and have departed this year.
Those are the things I wanted to present on this part of the presidential release.
Pam, I'm going to turn it back to you so we can go into what we want to do next.
PAM ALLEN:  Okay.  So thank you so much, President Riccobono.  And I wanted to share this evening our poll results.  So let me ask about our question regarding favorite pie, before I give the results.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Apple pie is what I said.
PAM ALLEN:  Okay.  Yeah.  Just refreshing.  I wanted to remind everybody about that because it happened to be the number one --
MARK RICCOBONO:  Well, look at that!
PAM ALLEN:  Number one, with 24%.
Close second, my husband's favorite, pecan pie, 21%.
And followed by pumpkin.
Then we have chocolate cream, lemon meringue, cherry, and buttermilk.
So we have a lot of dessert lovers out there for sure.  And we all know, you know, we had some comments about peanut butter pie in the chat.  We wanted some variety.  We knew if we said peanut butter pie, that would be 100%, so that goes without saying.
MARK RICCOBONO:  That's right.
PAM ALLEN:  Our next question for our poll results, this is really interesting, especially on our very special night tonight.  Our first presidential release.  What decade.  So for those who heard their first presidential release in the '70s, that would be 12%.  The '80s also 12%.  The '90s, that's when my first one was, 19%.  2000s, also 19%.  2010s, our current decade, 26.  And this, our first 2020, this year, 8%.  And 3% are with us tonight for the very first presidential release.  Which is pretty exciting.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Look at that.
PAM ALLEN:  Quite a memorable one, don't you think?
MARK RICCOBONO:  Yeah.  Pretty diverse spread.
PAM ALLEN:  Yeah, we got all the decades represented proudly.
So President Riccobono, it's interesting you were talking about the setting.  A little piece of trivia, the reflecting the flame sculpture, piece of art, I should say, was done by an artist from Louisiana.  Trivia.  Pretty cool.  And that was my first banquet address and my first convention, in 1991, so a really special speech.
MARK RICCOBONO:  There you go.  Did you hear the presidential release in 1991?
PAM ALLEN:  As a matter of fact.
So we now have a very special, special part of our evening.  And I just want to remind everybody, we are -- I want to thank everybody for sending in questions.  I will remind everybody that we'll be handling those questions throughout this evening.  People can still share questions in the chat.  And also can email questions to  And just a reminder if we don't get to all your questions tonight, our fabulous communications team will follow up.
And I also want to thank Daniel Martinez for our Spanish translation and also thank Natalie for our captioning tonight.
I will turn it over to you for the next very exciting and special part of our evening.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Okay.  Thank you, Pam.  And it is a special evening.
First, I want to I guess begin by acknowledging that here with me, to my right is Marc Maurer, our immediate past President.  And has also the distinction of making the most presidential releases, totaling over 300.  So Dr. Maurer, welcome back to the presidential release.
MARC MAURER:  Greetings, fellow Federationists.  I've started a lot of presidential releases that way, and it's great to be back.
MARK RICCOBONO:  And then to my left is Mary Ellen Jernigan, who has been around the Federation for a long time and who has sometimes been on the releases but always around the presidency of the Federation.  So Mrs. Jernigan, good evening.
MARY ELLEN JERNIGAN:  Good evening, everybody.  Delighted to be here.
I was at that very first presidential release, and probably can't claim that I've heard all 500 of them, but pretty close to that, I would guess.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Well, we're going to have some conversation this evening and just kind of reflect on the release, but let's start by really going back to presidential release number one, which was recorded on November 12, 1973.  I had heard presidential release number one previously.  I listened to it prior to my making my first presidential release.  But when I listened to it this time, something struck me about it.  So let's roll this clip.
(The following tape message comes to you from Kenneth Jernigan, President, National Federation of the Blind).
SPEAKER:  Fellow Federationists, we have had a great very many firsts during the past few years.  This is another.  It's the first time that we've tried a presidential release by cassette.  I think this may give us an opportunity to talk more personally than we can do by mail, and also, I hope at least, it will be a means of speeding a great deal of information to you.  You know, you can talk I suppose a good deal faster than you can write and put a good deal more material on to one cassette than you can into either one letter or a series of letters.
MARK RICCOBONO:  So when I listened to this the other day, I thought, well, wait a minute.  This suggests that there was a presidential release before the recordings.  And so we have a great archive here at the National Federation of the Blind, so I went and talked to our archivist, and, in fact, there were presidential release files going back to August of 1968, which would have been shortly after Dr. Jernigan took over the presidency at the convention.  And those hard copy, printed presidential releases ran from 1968 through early 1974, and they total over 200.  Most of these included individual letter correspondence that were shared with leaders of the Federation, but in the files they're designated as presidential releases.  So I guess the first question for the group here, I was going to ask about what the Federation leadership communications were like prior to the recorded releases.
MARY ELLEN JERNIGAN:  Now, you know, Mr. President, 47 years ago was a very long time ago.  Obviously.  But I think, to answer that question you've asked, we ought to look a little bit at the context of what was communication like in the world in 1973.  For instance, there were no personal computers.  There was no word processing as we know it today.  There was no Braille translation software.  There were no electronic Braille embossers.  The internet didn't exist.  There wasn't email.  There weren't cell phones.
Now, you did have telephones back then, and you had long distance calls.  Now, I suspect there are people listening here who wouldn't have the foggiest idea what a long-distance person to person call was.  Now, aren't all telephone calls person to person?  Well, Mr. Riccobono, do you know what a person to person call was?
MARY ELLEN JERNIGAN:  Well, good.  Tell me about it.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Well, you know, that's when you had to pay per minute, right, to call someone long distance.
MARY ELLEN JERNIGAN:  Well, was that different from any other kind of long-distance call?
MARK RICCOBONO:  Well, that I can't tell ya.
MARY ELLEN JERNIGAN:  Ah, I didn't think you could.
Here's what you had.  You could dial a call, make a call, and talk to whoever happened to answer and you paid a lower rate.  But since calls were so very expensive, you didn't often do that.  You placed a person to person call and you went through an operator, and the operator dialed the call and asked for the person that you were calling for.  If that person was there, you talked to the person at a higher rate.  And if the person wasn't there, you didn't pay at all.  So you had to gamble on what you were going to do.
I also looked up what calls cost in 1973, and learned that in today's dollars, a 10-minute call would have been about 25 bucks.
All right.  So then photocopies.  Photocopiers were just coming on the scene.  They used a coded paper.  It was a one at a time operation.  It was slow, expensive, and what you got was a pretty blurry copy.  So you can see that communication options were somewhat limited.
I'm trying to figure out, I know this about those releases.  They were basically collections of letters that Dr. Jernigan would have gotten in Iowa, and I looked through some of the topics.  They were what you would expect.  Items that he found of interest, things he thought people in the Federation ought to know about, some federation family news.  They didn't seem to be connected with any particular narrative.  They would just have been a collection of letters.  It appears that they were sent to the board and state affiliate Presidents and some chapter Presidents.
Now, they would have come to name Iowa at the commission for the blind office or the Federation office, and then he sent them out to Hazel tenBroek in the Federation's office attached to the tenBroek home.
But what I can't figure out is how she duplicated and sent them.  The monitor was produced there and it was a mimeograph.  So whether she had a copy machine that she used or whether with she retyped them or staff there at the office retyped them and mimeographed them, I don't know.  That's a mystery we can perhaps dig into.
Now, of course we had the monitor, and it would have been being produced at that time in print and in Braille.  We had two in-person board meetings, I believe, each year.  One in the fall at that time after Dr. Jernigan became President, they would have been in Des Moines.  You had the national convention.  You had a lot of personal one to one correspondence.  You had a few of those person to person calls, I suspect.  But the options were pretty limited.
MARC MAURER:  Mr. President, I was a student in the early '70s, went to college in 1970, and I joined my local chapter in South Bend, Indiana, and fairly soon I attended my first state convention in the fall of 1970 in Indiana.  And by 1971 I had become Vice President of our Indiana affiliate.  Along about then, I began to get these releases.  They were ordinary letter type documents, and they came in a customary envelope, one that you get all sorts of business communications within.  And I would get my reader in college to read them.  I had a reader.  The agency for the blind in Iowa, the commission for the blind that Dr. Jernigan was directing, authorized me to have reader service, and I knew that what the agency for the blind wanted me to do was get my reader to read whatever I needed to have read.  And sometimes it would be my school books and sometimes it would be letters from the National Federation of the Blind.  It's a long time ago, and nobody is listening from the commission anyway, so I can tell you that sometimes I would borrow an automobile and I would get my reader to read street signs as we went down the highway to do Federation business.  This was all in the spirit of reading the proper things.  And I didn't want to limit what my reader would read.  As a matter of fact, I thought the purpose of all of this was to get the broadest possible education for me.  And one of the greatest educational experiences was to learn how to build an organization and to find ways to get it to do the kind of work that would change opportunities and possibilities for blind people in the area where I worked.
But the releases came out, and they covered activities of the Federation.  And what people in the Federation were thinking and doing.  And they were significant questions to Dr. Jernigan about what our policy was with respect to certain topics and what our position would be on policies dealing with legal matters and other things.  In other words, the questions weren't much different from the kinds that are raised now in presidential release presentations.  It's just that the format was different and it was very intermittent.  There wasn't one every month necessarily.  And sometimes there was more than one a month.  And the idea behind it was that you would take the thoughts in these documents and discuss them at your chapter meeting that month.  So sometimes I took the ideas with me to my local chapter to talk.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Well, you know, without the benefit of having Dr. Jernigan here to talk about what it was like and what the purpose was in developing the releases, do either of you have reflections on how he felt about the release and his thoughts about it?
MARC MAURER:  Well, I know that he liked the recorded release.  He was a very personable human being, and he liked being with others very much.  And he wanted communication on an individual basis as much as possible.
And with that in mind, he thought that his putting his own voice on record on the recording would make it much more personal for people to hear from him directly.
His idea of a presidential release, especially the recorded one, was that members had a right to hear it.  The officers, presidents of chapters and so on, were supposed to get these releases, and then the members had a right to hear from their President, their national President.  It would be very unusual for Dr. Jernigan to attend a local chapter meeting because we just couldn't do all that.  But to have his voice in the room with the members meant that there could be communication with him, and if people had questions, they could write him later and tell him what they thought of the presidential release, and he would essentially universally respond.
MARK RICCOBONO:  When you listen to the early, especially release number one, very conversational.
MARY ELLEN JERNIGAN:  You know, I think in addition to the things Dr. Maurer has talked about, the Federation in 1973, in the beginning of the '70s, was undergoing a tremendous growth spurt.  And I think it was the -- I know it was the convention in 1971 because that was the first convention that I managed the logistics for.  It was in Houston.  And on the very last day of that convention, by dragging in -- I can admit it now.  By dragging in two or three of the hotel staff we had been working with and registered, we hit 1,000.
Here we are then in 1973, and we registered 1506 people.  Tremendous growth.  At that convention, that was in New York City at the Statler Hilton Hotel.  At that convention, we had all 48 states represented.  Well, we had all states except Vermont, but we had D.C.  So we had an affiliate from every state except Vermont in attendance.  We had brought in a lot of organizing, brought in new state affiliates, and that was also the time when we had unified the name.  By that time, we were well underway to having every state be National Federation of the Blind of... given state.
So what the recorded release then began to do was to continue to build that unified action, that unified friendship.  We really became one in a way we had never been.  And that just warmed Dr. Jernigan's heart beyond measure.  To really be able to talk to everybody at local chapters in the same month and have a common knowledge, a common set of actions, that was revolutionary for further strengthening at all levels of the Federation during the '70s.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Dr. Maurer, you've made more releases than anyone.  Over 300.  And appeared on the others that you weren't primarily in charge of.  What has the release meant to you, both as a member and as a leader?
MARC MAURER:  Oh, I loved to make the release.  Making the release was a fun thing to do.  And the plan was to be communicative with people, to express what we're doing, and to show the drama of it and to show the personal relationship that I have with the organization and that the members have with the organization and to invite people to be more involved than they have been.
So the release has been all that.  And then of course there were the jokes.  300 releases and we didn't usually do one joke.  I tried not to duplicate and I don't know whether I have.  But it was hard to remember all 1200 jokes or whatever.  To try to have both the serious business of what we do, enough humor to know that the organization has a lighter side, to know that the members build the organization, to project that we can do more than we've done in the past, to make it clear that we're proud of the history we've got, but we're building for tomorrow and making something exciting come true that hasn't been true in the past, and that what we need in order to get that done is the individual members to know that they can participate fully and make the organization bigger, brighter, and better than it's been and tougher and also more resilient and imaginative.  This is what the release is about for me.  It's always been like that.  And I have as much interest in talking with the members as others do.  I've been around to every state affiliate and to hundreds of chapters, and I meet people and they say, do you remember the time that you... and then they tell me something I did to build their confidence or something.  And I regret to say that often I don't remember that.
I'm glad I did it.  It's like know do it.  It's like the Federation to want to do it.  It's like the Federation to say to each other:  We have got to believe enough in one another that we can help the person on the other side who is having trouble today get beyond that trouble and build for a great life tomorrow and then take that spirit and spread it to those who don't yet know and don't yet believe.
All of that is part of the release for me.
Now, Pam, you're not in the room with us so you don't get any cookies.  Sorry.
PAM ALLEN:  I know.  You can have some for us.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Feel free to jump in with a question if you have one.
PAM ALLEN:  Actually, I do have a question as a matter of fact.  This is for all of you.  What are some of your favorite moments or kind of anything behind the scenes?  I'm sure, like everything, when we hear the presidential release, it sounds like it's gone off without any issues or any funny behind the scene stories or any memorable release moments that you would like to share?  Probably a lot of them.  It's hard to choose.
MARC MAURER:  Well, your favorite moment in making the release.  Mr. President, tell us, what has been your favorite?
MARK RICCOBONO:  That's a tough question.  You know, for me, of course, it's been fun to engage the kids in the customary endings of the release.
I have to say that in making the release, I of course grew up with the release, as it was, and I heard people say for I'm sure as long as you did, Dr. Maurer, that the presidential releases are too long.  And they're hard to make shorter because there's a lot to talk about.  If we weren't doing anything, we could make them shorter.
But I actually think that the live format has -- we didn't think it up on purpose.  When we got to March of last year and I thought, oh, man, I got to make a release for April, what can I say and send out?  And where are people going to play it?  They're not getting together.
We thought, well, why don't we do it live.  We had no idea whether it would work, what it would mean, how it would be, and I think it's actually turned out to be a positive, because it's also gotten us to think about the release in the traditional way that we have, but also to get us really back to the conversational piece, which in a static recording is hard to do.  Dr. Jernigan was clearly great at it.  I think the live format has at least helped me feel good about getting back to that.
But the other thing is bringing in some of the audio from Federation events or interesting things that we've done.  I think that's a neat thing that we can do beyond just sitting and talking as well.
MARC MAURER:  So the release has a theme.  And so it depends on which part of the year you're in.  It depends on whether the presentation you have to make is one that has danger in it.  There have been a number of times when we've faced problems that were going to hurt us.  And we have to find a way to express those without frightening people too much.
And then there are periods when the release is there to express mostly joy.
The one that comes -- the year divides, as you often said, in half.  One half is the convention season and one half is the Christmas season.  Some people don't celebrate Christmas, and for you I wish you the other half of the year to celebrate what suits you.  But in any case, the year divides to the season of convention and the season for celebrating the great feasts of winter, and the one that I celebrate is the Christmas season.  So for me this is how it divides.
And especially I tell stories about my own past along about Christmastime.  Each Christmastime I tried to put something together that had enough to do with Christmas that mattered, because for us in the Federation, we have to find miracles.  Usually for our funding, we need a miracle a year.  In one sense, this isn't all that serious, but in one sense it is.  We have to have something that is so unusual every year that we are scraping the edges of building for tomorrow and yet we find enough money to do it.  And when we get funding in, we find ways to build programs that create opportunities for the blind and we need to create more of them.  We've never had enough.  And so when we get more funding in that we think might be fairly stable funding, we imagine the programs that can fully use the money.  And yet even when there's a pandemic or something, we have to keep raising enough money to have enough.
So we need a miracle or so a year for our finances.
Then we need miracles for families.  Suppose you get a family and the children are trying to figure out how to learn in this time when there's no system that works very well in the educational space and the computers don't have all the accessibility built in that you need and the teachers don't know how to use the computers even so.  We still need a miracle for that family in order to get the kind of education that we have.  We can provide some of these miracles, but we've got to have miracles both individually and organizationally every year.
So that's what Christmas for me is about.  It's a time when you can expect some kind of extraordinary thing to happen, which is usually a fairly small thing, but something that will help to show the support and the love.
So one time I put together a piece that was all about bringing home the Christmas tree, which we did when I was a kid, and I had fun doing that.  But I tried to have fun on the release, especially during the celebration seasons.
And then when you come to convention, you've got to talk about convention and what we're going to do to the fat boys and things like that.  I mean, it's the only important thing to do, find out a way that we can show that we can make the programs that deal with what matters to us work the way we want them to do.  So that's that part of the season.
And each presidential release falls into some category of time and theme, and they should reflect that.  At least I had that.
MARY ELLEN JERNIGAN:  All I was going to say is, as President Riccobono was thinking about this current format and all that it has to offer, I was thinking, oh, my goodness, Dr. Jernigan would be thrilled with it and a little bit jealous, because although he loved talking to people, of all of the releases he did, it was the only possibility so we probably didn't think of it as a disappointment, but now he would be, to use one of Dick Edlin's favorite expressions, he would be in hog heaven.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Yeah, I think it's interesting how when you look at the release, it is as consistent as the Federation has been in terms of message, in terms of engagement, and in terms of really promoting a constant theme of collective action and also togetherness, which I think Dr. Maurer is part of the theme that you're expressing in some of the stories.
I pulled up presidential release number 56, which was the first one recorded and distributed from this building in January of 1980.  I didn't necessarily know that that was the first one from the building, but Dr. Jernigan talks about it in an article that he wrote in the Monitor in 1984 after the 100th release happened a few months before that.
And on release number 56, Dr. Jernigan talks about various events that are going on and cases we're involved in.  And he makes a little statement about the organization which I think still holds true today.  So let's roll that clip, Will.
SPEAKER:  But of course why the National Federation of the Blind?  We keep plugging away to try to get first class citizenship and equal treatment for blind persons in society.  And I think we're the only group that consistently does that on a broad front.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Still true today.  Still true today.
MARK RICCOBONO:  So I was listening to this release, and there were other people on the release.  Duane was on the release talking about the JOB program, which was a big deal in 1980.  Probably don't have time to get into JOB this evening, but it's not something we talk about today much.  We still talk about employment.  But the JOB program was a big deal.
And then the release goes on to talk about the associates program.  And the associates program was a fundraising program that we have.  Pam, you remember the associates program.
PAM ALLEN:  Oh, yeah, most definitely.
MARK RICCOBONO:  It was still around when I came around in 1996.  And so on this release, the top states recruiting associates, and associates were basically donors to the organization, and the top individuals contributing.
So we took a clip of the associates list that was read.  So let's hear that.
SPEAKER:  Number one, Maryland.  25 recruiters, 10758 associates recruited, $3,218.
Number two, Alaska, five recruiters, 126 associates recruited, $1,657.
Number three, Florida, three recruiters, 89 associates, $1,781.
Number four, Iowa, 14 recruiters, 73 associates, $1,182.
MARK RICCOBONO:  To just point out that Maryland was still number one.
PAM ALLEN:  And we were still having contests to see which state.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Still having contests and very interesting that Alaska was number two.  That was pretty neat.  But more interesting was the reader in this case, who you can still tell it's Mrs. Jernigan, but she sounds quite different on the recording.
The interesting thing, though, is Dr. Jernigan then goes on to say, we're running out of time, but we have this PAC program and it's coming up, it's doing okay, we'll talk about it another time.  And of course the PAC program now is the real important fundraising program that we have for consistent discretionary dollars to the organization.
Mrs. Jernigan, I don't know if you wanted to say anything about the 1980 release.
MARY ELLEN JERNIGAN:  The associates program.  We worked and worked and worked on it.  But somehow it just never quite got there.
MARK RICCOBONO:  You know, we used to read these lists a little bit more on the release before we had more communication tools at our disposal.  Now we tend to push that information out in other ways.
But you know, we have had additional content on the release besides the President or someone else that's been invited to participate in the release for some specific reason.  And this has happened a number of times.
Now, I don't know when my name was first mentioned on the release.  I suspect it might have been mentioned probably when Melissa and I got married.  I actually don't remember.  I'm sure it was.
But I looked up the release that happened after the 2007 Youth Slam, which was an important program that we had, and it was right after I became executive director here.  And it turns out that on that release, at that time, it would have been the second side of the cassette that you would flip over.  And so Dr. Maurer says, if you turn over to the other side of the cassette, you can hear some of the sounds from our 2007 Youth Slam.  So I thought we would share a little clip from that as well.
SPEAKER:  Sit back, relax, enjoy the sounds.
SPEAKER:  What's the main goal of what you're working on right now?
SPEAKER:  We're working on the Hubble telescope and it's really just to give us an idea of what it looks like and how it works and operates.
SPEAKER:  I think it will help me be more confident because we have to do a lot of stuff by ourselves.
SPEAKER:  Even though the Youth Slam has just started, how do you think it will benefit you in the long run?
SPEAKER:  I think I'm going to be able to meet tons of new people from different areas of the country, I'm going to learn a lot about blind techniques and getting around and stuff.  Just going to have a great experience all around.
SPEAKER:  What new confidence do you think you'll have when you go back home on Saturday?
SPEAKER:  Cane travel and being able to get myself around.
SPEAKER:  We are working on a car right now that would be used by blind people.
SPEAKER:  Science is just a way to engage with the world around us.
MARK RICCOBONO:  So the release archives has many interesting little tidbits in it.  And I got to thinking that the presidential release, the Federation was on the cutting edge in 1973 with the first podcast, I think.  So this is number 500 for our podcast.
So we're in 2020 and the release has now taken this live format, and it's interesting to think about how communications have evolved within our organization.  I wonder if either of you have any thoughts about what's most important about the communications within our movement, especially as we move out of 2020 and the disruptive year that we've had?
MARC MAURER:  Well, I have a thought, Mr. President.
MARC MAURER:  The release came together in 1973, and it developed a style and a format.  That format had variations, but it was largely the same.  And it stayed largely the same until this live presidential release format came.
The release was ordinarily something like 20 minutes.  It could be less.  It rarely was.  It could be more.  It frequently was.  25 minutes stretched the edge, and half an hour was positively the outside unless there was something so important, so urgent, or so dangerous that it had positively to be recorded thoroughly.  And that happened once or twice.  I think not more than that.
So 20 minutes was the objective.
Now we're creating an hour long, and we're permitting two-way communication in the process.  Today what we get is mostly voices that are created here and sent out.  Sometimes voices from other locales, Pam, for example.  But eventually we'll have to think up a system where everything is live.  I know we tried some of this with the national convention over the summer and had a good deal of success, but there needs to be an opportunity for more thorough two-way, in-person, live, on-the-spot in today's moment communication together.  And that would be delightful.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Yeah.  Interesting.
MARY ELLEN JERNIGAN:  Whatever we do, whatever the new technology is, and what we've done this year with the Zoom, we've not used technology just to let it be distribution of information.
I guess what I would offer is something of a cautionary thought about it.  We don't know what the new technology will be, but whatever it is, and whatever it permits us to do, we must do then what we did this year.  We didn't let it just become distribution of information.  It always has to be our community getting together.
One slight downside even of what we're doing this year -- it's wonderful to have it in our own homes, but when we can have it again at the chapter meetings, you listened to it all together, but then you talk about it.  And you relate it to what we are doing right now in this particular chapter and how it's relevant to us.
So maybe a technology will come about that we can -- well, I guess it's already here.  We can go into breakout rooms, as Zoom already allows us to do.  But whatever we do, as long as we keep it being a family and a community experience, it will be right.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Well, Pam, I'm aware of the time, so I don't know if you have more questions for us?
PAM ALLEN:  I do.  Wow.  We've just been enthralled by listening to this reflection of history.  And also, you know, amazing, whether it's written letters to cassettes to Zoom or whatever happens next, it's amazing and powerful to me and to all of us how the presidential release, though the formats have changed, the core has always been the same and always will be.
So thank you all for sharing.  That's really amazing.
Now, we do have a couple questions.  One actually relates to the presidential release, the very first one that we played a clip from.  We have several people wondering if they have access, if we could post the entire release, how would they access it if they would like to hear the whole thing.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Yes, we can post presidential release number one on the presidential release page.  We'll do that.
We have many of the releases on CD but they're not otherwise digitized.  But presidential release one we can certainly post because we do have it.  So sure.  Stephanie is taking a vote right now.
PAM ALLEN:  Excellent.
And also, since you're styling your NFB mask, we have a question again, can people still purchase masks, are there any left.
MARK RICCOBONO:  There are some left, and we have ordered a few more.  Not as many as we did the first time around.  So even if we don't have any now, we will have some more soon.  So definitely call the market and you can get some more NFB masks.  I encourage you to keep wearing them.
PAM ALLEN:  Excellent.
Now, we had many comments coming in about how much everybody enjoyed virtual conventions.  Crystal Sanford from Texas and many different people commented on how much they are looking forward to our upcoming national convention in 2021, wonderful New Orleans.
Some questions have come up about any more details on the convention upcoming?  Except that it's going to be the best ever.
MARK RICCOBONO:  That's right.  Well, we're going to have a convention.  We will make that decision by March 1st.  I know that the board will be discussing it thoroughly this weekend.  In one sense, there's not an urgency to make a decision.  We're going to have a convention.  We know we can put on a great convention in New Orleans.  We know we can put on a great virtual convention.  So we're not in a hurry to make that decision.  There's a lot of information breaking out even in the last month since the last release about vaccines and a lot of predictions about everybody who wants a vaccine will have one by June.  I think we don't have enough data, but we're looking at this very closely, and we're going to make a decision that continues to allow us to get together as a community in the safest possible way.
PAM ALLEN:  Well, we are ready in whatever form and fashion, we are ready to welcome everybody.
MARK RICCOBONO:  We want to go to New Orleans.
PAM ALLEN:  That's right.  Best place to be.
So, now, speaking of conventions, President Riccobono, we're always looking forward, right?  So we have people wondering where 2022 is going to be.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Well, I couldn't tell ya.  Probably because we don't actually know yet.
We will have a convention.  Yes doing looking.  The disadvantage right now is we can't go on hotel tours.
I suspect by the time we get into the spring we'll have a '22 convention locked down somewhere.
PAM ALLEN:  Excellent.
Now, we have been talking a lot about voting and the powerful work that we've done in the National Federation of the Blind.  And we had a question from Chris from my hometown about would we consider in the future having our voting hotline, which is a great resource, open early for future elections for those people who may be using early voting?
MARK RICCOBONO:  It's a good suggestion.  We'll take that back.  And certainly we're looking at the voting strategy going forward.  Now that the mail-in and early voting has become so widespread, we know that voting legislation is going to happen, that voting is going to continue to be a hot topic.  I think it's a good suggestion that we think about how to evolve our voter hotline process to be able to support folks.  So we don't have a plan for that right now.  But we'll definitely look at that.
We've normally only run this hotline in presidential election years, so it's quite intense to put it together.  We would have to figure out a new way to do it.  But I think going back to the technology discussion, I think there's some possibilities there.  So it's a good idea.  We'll take that back and see how we can work that in to our plan.
PAM ALLEN:  Okay.  And we --
MARC MAURER:  Will the 2021 convention be both in person and online?
MARK RICCOBONO:  Well, we don't know the answer to that.  But I imagine that the board is going to discuss that in detail.
PAM ALLEN:  And President Riccobono, Lauren Merryfield wonders how people are appointed to committees, presidential-appointed committees.  How does that work.  And if you're interested in committees, how do you share that?
MARK RICCOBONO:  Good question.  So committees of the Federation are appointed by the President except for the nominating committee.  So you can write to and express your interest in being on a committee.  Typically the committee appointments have run the calendar year.  We've been thinking about moving them convention to convention, but we didn't get that done this year.  But you can express your interest in a committee any time.  Just know if you don't hear anything right away, it might be because we're holding it until we look at committees in January.  Keep in mind that there are certain committees that everybody wants to be on, like resolutions.  So we can't have everybody on the resolutions committee.
But all of our committees are listed on our website.  You can check them out there.  And please, we need more people involved in the work that we're doing.
PAM ALLEN:  Excellent.
Now, I think we have time for one more question.  And again, thank you, everybody.  Thanks to our fabulous communications team for all of the announcements about our presidential release.  Thank you to everybody for sending in questions.  And if we didn't have a chance to get to your question tonight, don't worry; we will follow up.
And this question, very important I think, we have some questions about our letters to Santa.
PAM ALLEN:  If you could talk about that.  I think that's very important and appropriate.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Yeah, absolutely.  We continue to have an ongoing partnership with Santa Claus to deliver his content in Braille, and we have been doing that, I think we've had very close to 150 families already who have requested letters that have gone out as we have made them available in Braille on the big man's behalf.  You still have, well, 15 days to get your letter requests in.  You can go to our website and find our Santa letters program there.  The deadline is December 16, so that we can get them in the mail in time to arrive for Christmas.  I encourage you to participate in this if you know of blind children who would like to get a Braille letter from Santa Claus.  I did get a sneak peek, Pam, and there is also a cookie recipe in there.
PAM ALLEN:  Oh.  Excellent.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Pretty neat tactile graphic.  So, you know, Santa Claus continues to step up his game in terms of delivering Braille letters.
PAM ALLEN:  That is for sure.  We can always count on him.
Excellent.  So Mrs. Jernigan and Dr. Maurer, do you have anything you would like to share, final comments or holiday greetings?
MARY ELLEN JERNIGAN:  Well, I wish for all of my Federation family a blessed Christmas, that you celebrate it however it works out to celebrate this year, and it is splendid for all.
MARC MAURER:  I share that wish and wish the blessings for Christmas for all who celebrate Christmas and the blessings of the season for those who celebrate something else.  And I wish for all of you a small miracle between now and the end of the year.
PAM ALLEN:  Thank you both so much.  And thank you for your comments this evening, for the perspective that you shared, and for the continued example that you are to all of us as mentors and friends and colleagues and family.  So thank you both.
Now, President Riccobono, before I turn it back over to you, I just want to send warmest greetings from Roland and me to everyone.  It's been an incredible year.  I know it's been full of surprises, many unexpected and lots of flexibility.  And we've all been challenged in ways that we never imagined.
As we always do in the Federation, our federation family has risen to the occasion and exceeded expectations as we always do.  And we are very, very grateful to be part of our federation family and send all our best to our federation family, to you and Melissa and the kids, and we thank you for your leadership, your willingness to listen and to be creative and flexible and not afraid to try new things, and always to work to hold our federation family together with wisdom and integrity and love.
So happy holidays, and I'll turn it back over to you.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Thank you, Pam.  Happy holidays to you.  And Dr. Maurer, Mrs. Jernigan, thank you for being here.  It's great to be in person with you again.  So it's a nice little Christmas miracle early, I guess.
So to close out, I would like to offer, I do have my membership coin here.  And you know, of course it has the word "together" on it.  I guess that's what I think about as we come to the close of this year.  It's been a challenging year, as Pam said.  It's been an unusual year for all of us.  And it's been challenging for our movement.  We've been tested in ways that we had not expected.  We've lost loved members, family members, to the pandemic, but what has shined through all of that is the love and determination that we find in this movement.
I know that I have been challenged to grow this year in so many ways, but what has kept me grounded and feeling really hopeful is what we have done together, whether it's protecting voting rights for blind people across the country in states like Michigan, where we literally made it possible for thousands of voters with print disabilities to get a ballot in fully accessible form and fill it out for the first time and submit it without assistance.
In our national convention, where we weren't sure we could produce an experience anywhere close to being in person, but I think -- I still have not seen a Zoom event as large as our national convention happen anywhere.  And I think often about the roll call of states where we had all of our affiliates not prerecorded, but live and in person and engaged in the convention.
So many individual miracles have happened, where members of ours have reached out to blind people who needed help, whether it was groceries or figuring out how to get to a testing center or whatever it has been.  The outreach that all of you have done has been so tremendous.  I can't feel anything but warmth and hope coming to the end of 2020 and looking ahead to what we're going to do in 2021.
I also want to acknowledge that it has been a year of growth.  We've been challenged personally and as a movement to dig deeper and take stronger actions as it relates to our members, friends, colleagues of color, and making sure that we continue to ensure that this movement reflects the diversity and inclusiveness that is really built in to the values that you can find in the leadership and the work that we've done.  You can find it even in listening to presidential release number one and before that.
We've been challenged this year, and we know that 2021 is going to represent a year where we need to do more in that area.  And so many others.  But I do believe that because of each and every one of you, because of the great leaders that we have, like Pam and Dr. Maurer, Mrs. Jernigan, the folks that we've heard from this evening, our tremendous staff who have continued to work in so many aspects of our organization this year, that we're going to push forward into '21 stronger, more together than we have ever been.
I do wish for each of you a very happy holiday season.  I'm looking forward to Christmas with the Riccobono family, and reflecting on the togetherness that we've had this year and the blessing of having each and every one of you in our lives this year and each and every one of you who have reached out at that right moment this year when it seemed like things were only going to get harder.  We've been strengthened by your love and support, and we're honored to have the opportunity to be part of this community with you.
So we do wish you a happy holidays, Merry Christmas, and a very, very Happy New Year.  And we know it's going to be a great 2021 because of the Federation spirit we have.
Now, we can't leave this 500th presidential release without some of the customary endings.  Now, there are 499 releases' worth of endings we had to comb through to get the endings for this release.  But we put together a little montage which includes a couple of things.  One is the ending from presidential release number one.  And then we have a part of the customary ending from Dr. Maurer's first presidential release when he was elected President in 1986.  Then we have a part of the customary ending from my first release in 2014.  I did not deliver the customary endings.  They were delivered by Austin Riccobono.  And then we have to close out my favorite ending, which was one that I attempted to deliver along with Oriana Riccobono, her response is really what you want to listen to.  And then after that we have a not so customary ending that was presented on presidential release number 401.  This was December 2011.  Dr. Maurer talked about making special moments on the release.  This is a recording that was played, put together for that release, done by Chris Danielsen, our director of public relations, and Parnell Diggs, who at the time was a national board member.
With that, I'll say happy holidays, Happy New Year, and let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.
SPEAKER:  The other day somebody asked me if I knew what you call a sleeping bull.  And I told him no.  And he told me it was a bulldozer.
SPEAKER:  What goes ha ha ha bam?  That's a man laughing his head off.
SPEAKER:  My name is Austin James Riccobono, and I have some jokes to tell you.  Why don't leopards ever take a bath?  Because they don't want to go spotless.
What's invisible and smells like carrots?  Bunny burps!
SPEAKER:  What did the coffee say to the cream?  It's hard for me to espresso my feelings, but I love you a latte.
SPEAKER:  Merry Christmas to you all.

      "Come, they told me.  A newborn King to see.  Our finest gifts we bring, to lay before the King.  Come, they told me.  A newborn King to see.  Our finest gifts we bring.  To lay before the King.  So to honor Him, when we come.       

      "Every child must be made aware.  Every child must be made to care.  Care enough for his fellow man to give all the love that he can."      

      "I played my drum for Him.  I played my best for Him.  Then He smiled at me, me and my drum."      

The preceding message was brought to you by Mark Riccobono, President, National Federation of the Blind, (410)659-9314. web.  Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.