Dear Fellow Federationists:
It has been my pleasure to serve as your president for the past year. However, I am writing to let you know that I will not seek, nor will I accept the nomination as President of the Omaha Chapter in January, 2022. Once my term has concluded, I will be leaving the National Federation of the Blind. The following letter will explain my reasons.
I have been a member of the NFB for 27 years. There have been times when I have stood at the periphery of the organization, particularly during my first several years living in Colorado. Yet, I could never fully bring myself to part from the movement that has played such a central role in shaping me as a blind adult. But now, I feel the time has come for me to take my leave.
I have many reasons for choosing to exit at this time. Some are personal, some are professional and some are political. The biggest reason involves the scandals that have erupted across the movement over the past year. When a number of women came forward with their stories of survival in December, 2020, I instantly believed them. I did so because of things I witnessed while serving in various leadership roles in the Nebraska affiliate, as well as working for and being involved with the Colorado Center for the Blind. Though I was tempted to leave the organization at the end of 2020, I decided to give our national leaders one more year to see how they would respond to the allegations brought forth by the survivors. I also wanted to take proper stock of the efforts of the #MarchingTogether Movement, spearheaded by our erstwhile state colleague, Stacy Cervenka. Though I did take exception to some of Stacy’s tactics and messaging, I felt that her core mission to hold the leadership to account for the crimes of certain leaders within the movement was a valid one.
After a year, the view from the trenches appears to be that little below the surface has changed. The collective of survivors appears to have gone silent and the leadership of the NFB, while mouthing all of the right words, does not appear intent upon real, substantive reform. While I applaud the formation of a survivor-lead task force, I question how much influence they have upon the leadership, or in which direction their influence might flow. I also take note that not a single person in a leadership role at the National Center, or at any of our three training centers, has appeared to have been punished for their active or passive complicity in the crimes of their subordinates. The one high-profile ejection, that of Fred Schroeder, does not go far enough in my view. Schroeder was given a five-year suspension from the organization with the option to return if certain conditions are met. I find this decision to be unfathomable, particularly when President Riccobono claims to possess empathy and compassion for victims of sexual misconduct. It is incomprehensible to me why permanent, irreversible expulsion would not be warranted.
The recent revelations published by David Gilbert in the Colorado Sun about the CCB, particularly those involving Brent Batron, a man for whom I directly worked and for whom I once held immense respect, serve as the final straw. If you have not yet read the piece, I urge you to do so and form your own conclusions. It is lengthy, but worth your time. For me, it served as one heartbreak too many. This, plus the recent election of Jessica Beecham as president of the Colorado State Affiliate, tell me that nothing has or will change in Colorado. My past observations lead me to believe that, as the Colorado affiliate goes, so goes the national movement.
Another reason I feel my time has come is due to the recent passage of Resolution 2021-02. During my entire tenure within this movement, I have taken heart at the notion that the NFB has been non-partisan in its mission. We will work with leaders of both political parties and will not endorse or adopt any political message from either camp. With the recent rise of more vocal elements of the woke left in the upper ranks of our organization, this position appears to be shifting. The NFB has now taken the position that voter suppression exists and that the blind are victims of it. I realize that many (perhaps all of you) might feel that this is a valid viewpoint, but you must be aware that it is certainly a partisan view that is often espoused by political leaders on both sides of the aisle who are more interested in servicing their own political agendas than in serious voting integrity. Since the electoral structure in the Federation at the national level is not set up for any meaningful challenges to the current leadership, and given the recent encroachment of leftist politics into our national messaging, I have no real reason to believe that any attempts at a substantive contest of ideas would be successful. I have no interest in lending any more of my time, energy or finances to an organization that trumpets progressive notions of diversity, equity and inclusion, all while doing less than its utmost to vindicate survivors of sexual assault within our ranks.
If you compare the history of open societies in the western world with those of more dictatorial, oppressive cultures, what you will find is that valid elections are the ultimate method of self-cleansing and self-correction. Said elections must be transparent and open to all citizens without fear of implicit or explicit consequence for each individual vote. Right now, we don’t have that at the top. If you doubt me, ask yourself when we’ve ever seen a national contest for president, or any other board position of import. I dare say that you will be hard-pressed to think of one. Moreover, if you will examine the plight of other organizations grappling with the issue of sexual misconduct, you will find that groups such as the Southern Baptist Convention are engaging in a more open, honest struggle with the issue. Those of you who may be apt to dismiss the SBC as a bunch of maga-loving, bible-thumping rednecks would do well to research the firestorm that erupted last summer. Then compare it to the recent history of the Catholic Church, where sexual predation is still a recurring problem, and where power flows to and from a very few at the top. Then compare the power structure and culture of top-down leadership within the Catholic Church to that of the NFB. I think the similarities will strike you.
I suspect that my decision will come as a disappointment to some of you. I humbly apologize for this. I have made many wonderful friends during my time in the NFB, both in Nebraska and in Colorado. I have also learned that many so-called friendships are transitory and transactional, dependent upon one’s status within the organization. These have been painful but necessary lessons for me to learn in the journey of my life.
This is why I genuinely feel that a clean and total break from the NFB is the best thing that I can do for myself emotionally, spiritually and professionally. It was not an easy decision, but it is telling that, as I was putting the final touches on this letter today, I happened to glance at the Braille Monitor and saw a quote from Ibram X. Kendi that was offered without critique or balance. This served as assurance that my decision is the correct one.
I will chair the January meeting, thus fulfilling my obligations to the chapter. After that, I am leaving and my decision will be final. My exit from the NFB will be a quiet one. I will not trash talk on social media or flame specific leaders. If asked, I will offer honest criticism and praise to the NFB, but I will not seek strife or confrontation without provocation. I do not intend to be a crusader for reform. I will simply follow the path of many of my friends who have circumspectly departed from the movement, carrying on with their own quiet lives and leaving the NFB to its ultimate fate. Nor will I join the ranks of any other national blindness organization that hangs its hat on anti-Federationism. That is not why I am doing this. I will just go quietly into that good night without fanfare or drama, this letter serving as the closing remarks to this long, circuitous chapter in my life.
Thank you to all of my friends for your steadfast love and support. Thank you to those few good and decent leaders who role modeled positive behavior for me.