by Rocky Hart
From the Editor: Rocky Hart is a freshman at the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind. He is also a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota. Rocky is a reflective and articulate young man who writes with excitement, wisdom, and conciseness beyond his years. Here is what he has to say about his first visit to the Minnesota state capitol:
Earlier this year I had the great honor and privilege of attending the National Federation of the Blind Washington Seminar in Washington, DC, where I had the opportunity to advocate for every blind person in America. I met with four members of Congress to discuss issues affecting blind people and had a wonderful time. Nearly a month later, I was invited to our affiliate’s “Day at the Capitol.” When I received this invitation, the big day was only a week away, and as much as I wanted to attend, I was concerned that I could not arrange for transportation and supervision in a timely manner. Fortunately, just the opposite happened. One of the staff from MSAB (Minnesota State Academy for the Blind) agreed to transport me, and all I needed to do was read our fact sheets, make appointments with my state legislators, and get prepared for the adventure I was about to have.
When I arrived at the capitol, I was pared up with Steve Jacobson, the vice president of our affiliate, who was also one of my team members in Washington, and we would attend our appointments together. We had four scheduled appointments, all with members of the Minnesota House of Representatives. The priorities we were focused on were the protection of the rights of blind parents, funding a study to establish a program at the University of Minnesota to license teachers of the blind/visually impaired, and maintaining and creating accessible voting machines to insure blind/visually-impaired people could cast a secret ballot.
Our first appointment of the day was with one of the representatives from the Twin Cities area, though I cannot remember how to pronounce his name. He seemed very interested in what we were proposing. In regard to the issue of teachers of the blind/visually impaired, he said he was willing to write a bill if we could not find any other author.
In my opinion our second appointment ended up being by far the best appointment of the day. We met with Republican Representative Ron Kresha, who represents the Ninth Congressional District in Minnesota, located geographically very close to the district in which I reside. He also serves on the educational finance committee, the same group I testified before when advocating for budgetary requests for MSAB. For that reason we began our meeting by discussing the TVI issue. He not only pledged to support us; he offered to draft a bill for us once we provided him with the appropriate language. Of course we said yes. He asked me specifically to testify before the committee once the bill was drafted, and I said I would. He also agreed to support us on our other legislative priorities.
Our third appointment was with Rita Moran, a Democrat from the educational finance committee, who is also supporting us in our work. Our fourth and final appointment of the day was with one of my own local representatives: John Poston, a Republican who also coincidently serves on the educational finance committee. He agreed to support and co-sponsor any bill we wish to draft regarding the issue of teachers of the blind/visually impaired, as well as the issues concerning the rights of blind parents and accessible voting machines. I took photos with both Ron Kresha and John Poston. I left the capitol knowing my effectiveness in advocating for the blind of Minnesota payed off and generated huge success, and I was more assured than ever that our state legislators are behind us.
Over the course of four months I have attended the NFB of Minnesota state convention resolutions meeting, the 2018 Washington Seminar, and now the Day at the Capitol. I do not take these opportunities for granted, nor do I take credit for them. I thank God for all of these privileges. Though what we are advocating for are our rights to live up to our fullest potential, I view advocating in and of itself as both a great honor, privilege, and an obligation. We are privileged with the opportunity to go to our local, state, and national legislators to advocate for our rights, yet we must do this if we are to live up to our fullest potential. As members of the National Federation of the Blind know better than anyone, there are still many misconceptions and superstitions among the sighted population about how we simply go about our daily lives. After all, we can’t…right? We in the NFB know the truth: we can live the lives we want. That is what we need to demonstrate to our sighted counterparts and elected officials. I have done just that through my advocacy at the legislature. In addition to education, advocacy, and optimism, one of the most important attributes we must have as blind people is faith. Once we advocate, we should then be optimistic and faithful that we will get what we so rightfully deserve. This is what I have done through all of my legislative work, and it is what I will continue to do for many more years to come!