Fresh off the advice of Jean Schiffman from Backstage's The Craft forum (see previous post), I spent some time meeting with National Federation of the Blind's member Ever Lee Hairston. Evie, as friends and family call her, graciously opened her home to me after Robert Stigile (VP of the NFB in Cali) introduced us. Not only was I blown away by the expedience at which the NFB addressed my inquiry, but Hairston turned out to be quite the extraordinary woman!
Hairston grew up on a plantation in North Carolina before moving to New Jersey to pursue a teaching career. Only a few years in, Ritinitis Pigmentosa caused her sight to diminish so much that she could no longer see the chalkboard. Never one to play the victim, Hairston began a new career in substance abuse counselling, eventually working her way up to Director of Rehabilitation for Camden County in Jersey. She has since retired and now devotes her time to blindness advocacy as a member of the NFB Scholarship Committee, youth mentor, and international motivational speaker. She plans to write a memoir about the challenges of being black, blind, and female in the near future.
Hairston's enthusiasm for life was contagious, and as she showed me how she uses her cane to get around, spoke about her activism, explained how she travels alone, and chided her adorable granddaughter, I was blown away by the generosity she extended to me. I haven't had to use much of what we discussed in performance, but am incredibly grateful for her openness with which she answered my sometimes silly questions.
I'd like to thank Patricia Maurer, Mary Willows, Robert Stigile, Ever Lee Hairston, and the entire NFB for their kindness; Jean Schiffman for her fantastic article; and the Morgan Wixson Theatre for giving me an opportunity to continue to learn and grow as both an artist and a human being!