Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Obama special assistant Kareem Dale to give the graduation speech at his alma mater, the Tennessee School for the Blind

From The Tennessean:

Kareem Dale, 35, remembers seeing fairly well as a young child, but always understood his vision would continually worsen.

"Mostly blind,'' is how Dale describes his present-day eyesight because of three incurable eye diseases.

His declining sight never limited Dale's ambition, according to those who knew him as a student at the Tennessee School for the Blind, where he graduated in 1991.

Dale now works in Washington, D.C., as the special assistant to the president for disability policy, a position he was appointed to by President Barack Obama.

But Dale returns to Donelson to speak at the Tennessee School for the Blind's graduation ceremony on May 29.

It's where he learned Braille at the insistence of his parents, which Dale took on wholeheartedly as a teenager knowing, and accepting, it was a skill he'd need as an adult.

Dale was the valedictorian at the School for the Blind, going on to college and law school at the University of Illinois and a career as an attorney prior to his appointment by Obama.

"I can't think of a better role model,'' said Jim Oldham, Dale's former history teacher and now superintendent at the School for the Blind. "It gives the disability community in general a person we can be proud of, who has overcome obstacles and achieved success.''

Dale met Obama when he was a law student between 1995 and 1999. Dale was also president of the Black Law School Students Association as a student and asked Obama, then a state senator, to speak to the law school.

As an attorney in the Chicago area, Dale continued to be an Obama supporter, and they began discussing disability issues several years ago. Dale eventually joined the president's campaign as a volunteer before becoming a staff member as national disability director.

Improving integration and inclusion of people with disabilities nationwide through outreach and policy are objectives of the position, Dale said.

Tennessee School for the Blind seniors J.C. Anderson and Chelsea Carter both called Dale's appointment an inspiration to them and believe the position itself would be positive.

"There seems to be a barrier between people with disabilities and the general public,'' said School for the Blind senior and salutatorian Chelsea Carter. "I think that President Obama interacting with people with disabilities can help bring down that barrier.

"That (Dale) came from here and made it from this place to get where he is, is really cool. It's good he remembers were he started, where he was educated.''

When he speaks, it will be the first time in several years Dale has been back to the Tennessee School for the Blind.

"I think the message of anything is possible, and similar to what the president talks about, that circumstances don't dictate where you can go in life,'' Dale said of his coming speech at graduation.

Dale is from Chicago, but came to Tennessee School for the Blind in the sixth grade, he remembered.

His late grandparents, Joseph and Pearl Bryant, lived in Tennessee, and Dale's parents were familiar with the Donelson school. Kareem's older brother Yusef also attended the Tennessee School for the Blind.

Dale credits his parents for shaping his ambition by never letting him use his declining sight as an excuse.

He also calls retired guidance counselor Rosalyn Buford "a second mom,'' and remembers his stay at the School for the Blind as a growing experience.

Dale lived on campus and returned home to Chicago for breaks and summer, remembering the School for the Blind gave him early experiences of living independently.

"He was very intelligent, very inquisitive,'' Buford said. "If you told him the grass was green, he'd want to know why. He said at graduation he wanted to be a lawyer, and I never doubted he would. He was pretty talkative but very polite. He'd speak his mind, but he was respectful.''