“I know I am blessed!”
As a young toddler, Denice Brown’s grandmother noticed she would bump into things when in dimly lit rooms. So at around two years old, she started seeing specialists at Will’s Eye Hospital in Philadelphia where she was diagnosed as having Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a lifelong condition that rarely improves but rather deteriorates. But if you are truly blessed, it takes more than that to slow you down.
Denice continued her education and she is quick to point out that her schooling did not include schools for the blind. She graduated from Overbrook High School and went on to receive her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and her Master’s in Special Education from Temple University. She fulfilled her lifelong dream of being a schoolteacher, a career she held for over twenty years. And Denice brings that same drive and self-determination to her varied positions within the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).
The journey began in 2000, when Denice was looking for training in assistive technology. She was referred to Ted Young and his Young Opportunities company.
“When I would call Ted one of his voice message options was to speak with him at his company and another was to speak with Ted Young, Pennsylvania state president of NFB.”
So during one of her training sessions, Denice asked Ted “just what is the NFB?” Ted told her about the two Philadelphia chapters and encouraged her to attend both, which she did.
It happened that in 2001, the national convention was suddenly relocated to Philadelphia. Not one to miss an opportunity, Denice quickly became a part of the convention’s hosting committee.
“I got a behind the scenes look at how a state gets ready to host blind people from around the country.”
Following the convention, Denice decided to focus her membership on the Greater Philadelphia Chapter; however to this day she still attends Keystone meetings when possible. In 2002, Denice was elected Second Vice President. The following year, then-president Lois Holmes stepped down and asked Denice to consider running for president.
“I agreed with the condition that I would have a seasoned right-hand person as First Vice President.” That turned out to be Leon Conaway, a Federationist for over fifteen years and a former chapter president.
That same year, Denice attended her first Washington Seminar. As her team was preparing for a day of appointments, fellow Federationist Jim Antonacci asked her to read the agenda to the group. There was only one problem. The itinerary was entirely in Braille. Although, previously certified as a Braille instructor, Denice had let her Braille skills lapse and sheepishly admitted that she did not read Braille.
“When I told him that I also said to myself, this is never going to happen to me again. I was going to learn Braille.”
Her tenacity and commitment to the NFB philosophy has put Denice in front of the very top leadership of the organization. She has served nationally on the Scholarship, Membership, Ambassador’s, and the Black Leaders Serving for Advancement committees. As a longtime board member and chapter president, Denice’s passion extends well beyond her Pennsylvania locale.
“I serve the blind community as a whole, and I want each one to be independent, trained and as multi-dimensional as possible. In NFB there is probably somebody already doing what you may want to do, and I want to help connect those people.”
For fun, Denice enjoys Broadway shows, live and recorded music (especially jazz) and loves to cut the rug a bit. She has even tried her hand at dragon boating —a blessed life indeed.
“When people say to me, you know you are blessed, they think they are saying something to give me some inspiration. But I look at how my life has been and what I have accomplished and the people I’ve met, and the places that I have been; I don’t need anyone to tell me. I know I’m blessed.”
Although retired from teaching, Denice is an active volunteer at a local agency serving the blind but is also a member of several other nonprofits. She is a proud native of north Philadelphia, where she currently resides.
Contact Denice at:
Written by Lisa Bryant