Picture of Congresswoman Kay Granger

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Congresswoman Kay Granger]

Supporting Programs that Enhance Opportunity:
A View from Congress

by Kay Granger

Thursday afternoon, July 9, Congresswoman Kay Granger addressed the Convention. She is a compelling speaker, and it was clear that she impressed her audience and was impressed by what she observed of the National Federation of the Blind. President Maurer introduced her with the following words:

Congresswoman Kay Granger, who is a Member of Congress from the Twelfth Congressional District of Fort Worth, Texas, is the first Republican woman to serve in the United States House of Representatives from Texas. Before her election to Congress in 1996, she served as mayor of Fort Worth for five years. She is a member of the House Budget Committee and an assistant majority whip. According to the Washington Times, Congresswoman Granger is the most often mentioned newcomer to Congress. And George Magazine has described her as one of the most compelling freshmen of the 105th Congress. Let me say to you, Congresswoman Granger, that we are pleased to welcome you to this convention. (Congresswoman Granger has been here through the afternoon.) You have observed that we have worked most closely with a number of Democrats this afternoon. Don't let that make you believe that we don't like to work with our Republican friends. We certainly do, and we want to welcome you to the 1998 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Here is Congresswoman Granger.

Thank you all very much. It's definitely an honor to be here today with all of you. I understand this convention will be the largest meeting of the blind anywhere in the world this year. I'm here to say first of all thank you for choosing Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex for your meeting again, and also thank you for asking me to be here with you today.

When I was contacted about speaking with you, we talked about what should be presented to you and what would be most important to say. I contacted a good friend of mine who speaks nationally to large groups such as yours and asked him what I should speak about. He looked at me, narrowed his eyes, leaned forward as if he were going to give me some very, very sage advice, and he said, "You asked, Kay, what you should talk about. I think you should talk about fifteen minutes and sit down."[applause]

The sheer size of this meeting is truly very impressive, but even greater than the size and strength of this organization is its purpose—to fully integrate the blind into society on the basis of equality. Before I was a Congresswoman, I was mayor. Before I was a mayor, I was a small business owner. Before I was a small business owner, I was a teacher like Kenneth Jernigan. I began teaching school when I was only twenty-one years old, and I taught high school English. My students were sixteen and seventeen and a few were even eighteen years old. So I had to try very hard to be bold and grown up in front of students who were almost my age. Of course I was learning just as they were learning. One of my students that first year that I taught was a very remarkable young man. He was president of his class. He was a brilliant musician. He was close to genius in intelligence, and he was also blind. Robert went on—I kept up with him—he went on to earn his bachelor's degree. He went on to earn his master's degree. He went on to earn his doctorate degree. The last time I heard, he was doing post-doctoral work in math.

I frankly couldn't teach Robert much in high school. He knew so much, but he taught me a great deal. He was very generous in answering my questions about how he dealt with and mastered the world he found himself in. That was nearly thirty years ago, but I have told this story many times to many other students and to people that I work with and colleagues. I have thought so often about what he taught me about really paying attention—attention to sound and texture and smell and the tiny nuances of each day and each event that go so completely unnoticed by those of us who do not develop that extra sensitivity that many of you have developed so finely.

In thinking of your mission and your purpose of this organization to fully integrate on the basis of equality, I also thought about one of my favorite stories about former President Ronald Reagan. I think this story makes an important statement about our society and how we view and treat those who live with extra challenges in their lives. One day Reagan visited an elementary school. He wanted to discuss the importance of staying in school and education and also staying off drugs.

It was that kind of well-crafted, well-planned media event that press secretaries can only dream of. Reagan had taken off his coat in a very relaxed manner and began to talk to the young children about how important they were to the future of America and how they absolutely had to stay in school and off drugs. At the end of his talk he said, "I'm now going to answer questions from you youngsters." And as luck would have it, the very first hand to go up was a little girl in the front row who didn't look any different from the other children, but unlike the other children she had a speech impediment, one that was so severe that her words were almost impossible to understand. Naturally, when President Reagan saw her hand go up, he smiled at her and asked what her question was. With all the network cameras filming every minute, the young girl looked at the elderly President and struggled to ask her question.

President Reagan couldn't understand the little girl, and with the cameras rolling, there was a silence as the entire room looked at Reagan and wondered what he would do. Would he tell her he couldn't understand her? Would he ignore it? Would he move on to another question, and if he did, wouldn't the little girl be crushed? Here she was with the President of the United States, and he couldn't, wouldn't answer her question. After a few seconds, Ronald Reagan walked over to the little girl's desk. He bent down on one knee and in a whisper that could barely be heard by others he said, "You know the worst thing about getting old is this darn hearing aid. It just never seems to work." He said to her, "Would you do me a favor? Would you write your question down, and I'll be happy to answer it?"

Well you can imagine, a collective sigh went around the room. Everyone in the room said that they were so relieved that a possibly embarrassing situation had been avoided. But more important, everyone in the room was amazed. Here was the most powerful man in the world, and he wasn't too dignified or too important to reach down to a little girl and say, "You know, your question is important to me." He let her know that so was she. Imagine what that must have meant to her. Imagine the struggles she'd suffered, and here was the President saying "You didn't do anything wrong. I'm just that old, and I can't hear sometimes, so let's just find another way to communicate."

As powerful as that lesson is, there is an even deeper lesson to learn from the story. President Reagan's simple act reminds us all that ultimately we're all the same, even though we are unique. We all have our own crosses to bear and our own challenges. Just because some of us face a speech impediment, paralysis, or, yes, blindness, we're created in God's image; and we all have a role to play in making America great. [Applause]

You in this room know that, and that's why you applauded. You know that's what makes America great, and you know that our differences also strengthen America. Our unique differences as people and the value we put on the individual are what make the greatness of America. One of the themes of this conference is supporting programs that enhance opportunities. Let me say that I support federal programs that help open doors for all people. SSI, Social Security Disability, IDEA, vocational training programs, and civil rights protection—they're all issues I've supported and I will continue to support because they're so important.

But they're just pieces of puzzles. Real solutions are found right here in this room. You are the ones that make it happen every day. You're the ones that are breaking down barriers and changing stereotypes. You're the ones who are letting your fellow citizens know that blind Americans have an important contribution to make in American life. You may be doing it through books like the Kernel series; you may be doing it just because you take the time to explain and let us know. I've a simple slogan—I say, "Government if necessary, but not necessarily government." So I want to tell you today, that, while government programs can be helpful, it's the timeless values that are essential. They aren't values handed down from Washington. They're handed down from one generation to the next.

I want to speak to you just a minute about how important it is that we all play an active role in society and pass down values. Whether you're a blind American or just an American interested in helping the blind, we can all make an effort to make a difference in our homes, in our work places, in our communities, and certainly in our nation. I believe there are two basic truths that open doors for all Americans, and they make our society more compassionate and more caring. I want to spend a minute just telling you and talking about those.

First I want to talk about an old fashioned American virtue. It's better to give than to receive. I say, isn't it amazing what can happen when we can give ourselves, not just money, not just words, but we truly give ourselves? America is a nation founded on giving and compassion. Generations have passed down the gift of a free nation to our children. Of course Americans give so freely, a hundred and fifty billion dollars a year to churches and to charities. It's not only our responsibility to give, it's our heritage; it's our contribution; it's our legacy here in America.

Giving usually involves more than money. Americans are traditionally understanding that our forefathers didn't believe government was the care giver. They believed that they were, and churches were, communities were, and individuals were. When they gave, they also had expectations. They said that they helped and they never took away the self-respect by giving much but expecting little. Marvin Olasky has written a book about early Americans and how they dealt particularly with poverty and those who were without. They used a very different model than sometimes we do today; they didn't measure support for the needy in dollars and cents; they measured the number of hearts they touched and the lives they changed. Our ancestors didn't just give their money. They gave their time. They gave themselves. They gave new folks jobs and brought them into the communities, their homes, their churches. In other words they gave from their hearts, not just from their wallets. We must never forget the power of people giving of themselves and giving to their neighbors. We must always remember that only in giving do you receive.

One of the most important lessons that Olasky talks about in this book is what we came away with in giving. With the gift came expectation, the expectation that everyone is expected to play a part. A hand up, not a hand out, was what was expected with compassion. So a lot of self-respect was restored along with a full stomach and a quenched thirst.

Last year a friend of mine was honored with the Horatio Alger Award. The Horatio Alger Award is a wonderful award that says, "We want to recognize people who have achieved extraordinary success by overcoming adversity." I listened to the stories both of those receiving the award and also of the wonderful young people that they were helping. But in those stories not a single person who was recognized gave credit to a government program. They gave credit to their own hard work, and they also gave credit to caring individuals in their lives. They also gave credit to an environment of opportunity and certainly equality of opportunity, which is what you stand for.

America is a great nation and is filled with good people. I've always believed that. We're good because we believe that all men and women are created equal, and so therefore they deserve and should have equality in treatment, equality in respect, and deserve equal opportunities, which is of course what we have been working so effectively for.

We talked about one more important concept, and that's the concept of the power of one. Let me explain it. You may remember the story of Captain Scott O'Grady. He was the pilot who was shot down in Bosnia in 1995. He was alone, all by himself, starving for days. He lived off the land. He hid in the bushes from the enemy. At night he would come out of the bushes and try to make contact with the American troops. Finally, after more than a week, he was able to make contact. But there was only one problem—how do you rescue a person deep within enemy territory when he can't even come out from the bushes? So what do we do? We send in the Marines. We sent the Marines, a whole platoon of them. We sent our Marines, who are the best trained and best equipped soldiers. We did that to save one person, Scott O'Grady.

That statement becomes even more amazing when you look around the world and see how some nations treat individuals. In Iraq you see a leader who never tries to save one person. In fact, he's been known to test weapons of mass destruction against his own people. He protects himself with human shields of women and children. But thank goodness America is a different place, and thank goodness America values each and every citizen. Only Americans can be kind enough, concerned enough, and caring enough to mount a full-scale operation to save one person.

On a more personal level, think of the people around you. Think of the people in this program, and think of the people who aren't. Think of your colleagues you work with and people in your community who are sort of down and need help or need a pat on the back or need to be remembered or understood. Everyone plays a part. Please remember that in America each person is a creation of God, and each person we need for the equal opportunity because that is what makes America great. With a little help that person can become a doctor, a scientist, or a teacher (one of the most important careers). Like I say, we need everyone to pitch in, and we need everyone to play a part, and everyone can do that part if they listen to what you're saying. What you're saying is, "Opportunity for all and equality for all." I think we should keep in mind that people are only limited by their dreams.

I appreciate my experiences. I appreciate the people who have been in my life who give the color, the texture, and the understanding that it takes all of us and that we all play a part. Each of us comes with a little different kind of difficulty, but if we listen to each other and talk to each other and we understand that we are unique, then our nation can overcome whatever is wrong. It's often popular today to talk about what's wrong in America. I believe that what's wrong with America can always be overcome with what's right with America. You show that in this room; you show that in this meeting; and I appreciate it very, very much.

Thank you for letting me talk to you today. Thank you for letting me listen particularly to the wonderful stories I've heard. Thank you.

In a brief question period following this address, Congresswoman Granger was asked whether or not she would co-sponsor H.R. 612, the Social Security linkage bill. Mr. Gashel took a minute to describe it to her, and she immediately agreed to sign on, which she did several weeks after the convention.

[PHOTO/CAPTION: The scholarship class of 1998: (left to right) back row: Tomas Cintron, Adam LaSalle, Eddie Bell, Tanya Stewart, Rik James, and Daryl Swinson: middle row: Nhu Nguyen, Stephanie Thompson, Ellen Nichols, Catherine Armstrong, David Dzaka, Brenda Patterson, Sathish Sundaram, Ameenah Ghoston, Eddie Culp, Calvin Keuchler, Greg Williams, Jason Hutton, Arnold Thomas, and Priscilla McKinley; front row: Lauren Hunter, Karla Gilbride, Amanda Bourn, Tiffany Medina, Steven Smith, and Angela McJunkin.]