By: Ryan Strunk
I always knew Jennifer Dunnam was an organized person, but I never really knew just how organized she was until I saw two things: her wall of sound—ask her about it sometime—and the multiple, stapled pages of discussion topics she prepared for our chat on what I needed to know as president. In our first meeting after you all gave me the honor of leading our organization, Jennifer filled me in on all the things she did as president, from planning our conventions to working closely with the leadership of State Services for the Blind to mentoring chapter and division leaders across our state. Over the past 10 years, Jennifer has been a tremendous leader in our organization, and I cannot thank her enough for it.
As I sort through my notes, talk with our members, and reflect on the state of our organization, I find myself pondering what I can do that isn’t already being done. We had 99 members in attendance at the 2017 national convention and nearly 150 at our state convention. We have active chapters across the state, strong divisions focused on key areas, and leaders in our state who are nationally recognized for their expertise. We advocate in our state legislature and on Capital Hill. We are well-represented at State Services for the Blind. BLIND, Inc. continues to flourish.
Those accomplishments—along with so many others—humble me. They are a testament to the hard work of all our members who give freely of their time, energy, and experience. They show a level of dedication that can only be found when people are truly passionate about their work. They show me a way forward.
When I moved to Hawaii for my first teaching job, the braille program was in great shape. Even so, I had many, many ideas about how I thought things should be run, and those often buried the questions I should have been asking and the things I should have been learning. I even suggested, on one of my first days, that we should change the entire curriculum to something I was more familiar with regardless of the students who were already doing well.
Brook Sexton, who taught braille before me, gave me a piece of advice that I have carried and used ever since. “You’re new,” she said. “Take time to learn and observe before you just start recklessly changing things. See what is already working and build on that.”
Like the braille job in Hawaii, our affiliate is strong and effective. We have had excellent leadership from Jennifer Dunnam and our board of directors, and we have drive and determination from our hundreds of members across the state. My job, then, is to continue the work already being done and learn from all of you in the meantime.
For me to learn, though, I need to hear from you. I need you to teach me the things I don’t know. I need your suggestions, your feedback, and even your criticisms in order to make the NFB of Minnesota into the strongest affiliate it can be. Email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas. Text me. Call me. Come over to my house and we can sit in my kitchen and talk. Just make sure I hear from you.
We have a 98-year tradition of excellence in our organization, and I am honored that you have chosen me to be a part of it as your president. Please help me to do the job well, and together we will continue to do great things.