Change Makers: A Podcast from APH

Women's History Month: Ever Lee Hairston

March 10, 2022 American Printing House Episode 48
Change Makers: A Podcast from APH
Women's History Month: Ever Lee Hairston
Show Notes Transcript

In honor of Women’s History Month, Change Makers highlighting Ever Lee Hairston. Hairston came of age during a pivotal time in U.S. history and shares her story of living on a plantation, marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., trials and tribulations stemming from her undiagnosed eye issues to finally getting a diagnosis and how attending an NFB conference changed her life.


Podcast Participants (In Order of Appearance)

  • Sara Brown, APH Public Relations Manager
  • Ever Lee Hairston, NFB Board of Directors


Additional Links
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Jack Fox:

Welcome to Changemakers a podcast from APH. We're talking to people from around the world who are creating positive change in the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired. Here's your host.

Sara Brown:

Hello, and welcome to Changemakers I'm APHS public relations manager, Sara Brown, and we are celebrating Women's History Month and we are talking to a true change maker in every sense of the word. And that change maker is Ever Lee Hariston. Miss Hairston came of age during a pivotal time in us history and is here to share her story of living on a plantation marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to trials and tribulations stemming from her undiagnosed eye issues to finally getting a diagnosis and how attending an NFB conference changed her life. Hello, Ever Lee, and welcome to Change Makers.

Ever Lee Hairston:

Thank you.

Sara Brown:

So I have done some background research on you and oh my goodness. You are a true change maker in every sense of the word you have one heck of a story. So to talk about that, we're gonna go, we're gonna talk about some of the major moments of your life, but we're gonna go back to your childhood. Can you talk about where you were born and raised? I do know it was in the Carolinas. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Ever Lee Hairston:

Yes. Uh, I was born on the Cooleemee Plantation and that's located in Davie County, North Carolina. The county seat is Mocksville North Carolina, which is in the Western part of the state of North Carolina. Uh , my parents were sharecroppers on that plantation and , uh, so I was there with my raised by my parents and paternal grandparents.

Sara Brown:

So you grew up during segregation when it came to your education. What was that like?

Ever Lee Hairston:

Well, there was segregation throughout the South, but later I learned it wasn't just the south, but anyway , (that's right). I grew up , um, having to attend all black schools. And the thing about that was they were good teachers. I do believe. And , um, I felt like I got a decent education in elementary and high school. But limited because we never had an opportunity to have updated books. And I was bused to school from the plantation to Mocksville to the city of Mocksville. It was about 19 miles from home, but we passed several white schools along the way and this I could never understand. And once we got to school, we were using hand-me-down books. That's what we call them because we never got new additions of any of the books that we used. We had to get the were no longer , um, the ones that were going to be used at the white schools. And so those were turned over to us. So that's what happened, getting my education. The other thing with that interfered with my education in , um , high school, I would say is being on the plantation. There were so many responsibilities that my parents had, because my father also worked in town, but my , uh , grandfather and my grandmother both worked on the , in the plantation house. My mother did some days work in the plantation house, but there were, there were , uh , seven children that she had. So she was busy raising children and going over to the big house, we called it, to do some work as well. But for the children, my two older siblings and I, we had to stay out of school, usually two consecutive weeks at a time in the Spring and in the Fall. And this was some something that I really detested, but there wasn't much, I had much, I had very little control. I'll put it that way. So, so , uh , we had to stay out to either chop cotton in the spring or pick cotton in the fall, fall was harvest's time. And the ironic thing about that after staying out of school and having to work so hard at picking cotton and having to deal with the snakes. And I'll tell you about that in the fields, my parents and grandparents, after raising all of that cotton, they only got 70 cents , uh, that was given, well, let me put re rephrase that. 70 cents was given to the plantation owners and 30 cents was given to the , um, sharecroppers. So out of a dollar, we got 30 cents. So it wasn't very much to live on. And , um, that's something I recall very, very, very vividly. It was one of the last days that I worked in the fields, my two older siblings and I were picking cotton. And when I lean forward to pick this beautiful cotton out of the cotton bowl, there was a long black snake on the ground. And I yelled out to my brother and he said, "oh, come on . Let's get done so we can get back to school ." And so , but I was frightened. And um, he said, "oh, that long snake's gonna just crawl away." And sure enough, the snake did. But I was cuz I had some vision at that time. And so I, I still was frightened and walked and much slower going down that cotton row . And so I guess I had gotten another 50 feet down the cotton row. And when I leaned forward to pick this beautiful cotton out of the cotton bowl, there was a brown snake and it was a copperhead . So I yelled to my brother and he walked over and looked. He said, "oh my gosh, it's a copperhead." But there were several things , several copperheads all around us. And we were so frightened all three of us. So we dropped out tow sacks, which carried the cotton from around our waist . And we ran as fast as we could until we reached a trailer that was parked at the beginning of the cotton row and was packed with several bags of cotton. So I climbed to a bag on the bird top . And as I sat with my head in my hands and I thought, "oh God, there has to be a better way of life for me." And as soon as I graduated from high school, I was ready. I had already answered an ad in the newspaper for live-in maids in New York, in Long Island. And that's what I did. So at age 17, right out of high school, I went to New York to work as a live-in maid, because I wanted very much, my dream was to become a nurse because , and I was ignoring the fact that at that time I was beginning to really experience some of the symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa, which is the eye condition that I have . And I guess that was realized also during my senior year, I was invited along with my sister to attend a football game in Lexington, North Carolina, the next town over and I was dating the quarterback. Oh , I was so excited. I was so excited about going to this game. And of course I didn't talk about the fact that I couldn't see at nights and the same thing was happening with my sister, my older sister. She also has RP . And so did two other siblings, but both are deceased. One died at age 22 and the other one at age 16. But anyway, we were so excited. A first cousin of ours picked us up and took us to the game. And after the game, we were gonna meet with the quarterback and my cousin. And , um, we were going to go to a , kind of a little hangout where everybody was going to meet after the game to celebrate, because we just were optomistic about them winning. And that was our plan. Anyway, going into the stadium, there was, it was still , uh , daylight and we could see we got into the stadium, no problem. But then we , and the game was over. It was very dark. And as my sister and I were walking out of the stadium and down this very long walkway, there was some lanterns Indicated danger, but neither of us were able to see them . And unfortunately we fell into a four feet hole. And so there were people just walking and walking around us and no one stopped to help. That's what I, I, I still can't understand that until today, no one helped us Or attempted to help us. But we struggled. I was much taller than my sister. We struggled and I got out and then I pulled her out, but of course we were dirty and it was very embarrassing to have to get into the quarterbacks car. So That was one of the most embarrassing and difficult times for me in realizing that I needed to share and talk about my night blindness, But I still did very little of it. So then while in New York, working as a live-in maid, I had gone into the City, New York City cuz I was in Oceanside, Long Island. And so I wanted to go into the city. Actually it was into Brooklyn because I had a distant cousin there and I wanted to get away and go visit. Well, by the time I got the train and got back to Oceanside on this Sunday evening, it had gotten much darker than I had anticipated. So when I got out of the taxi in front of the house and I was trying to find my way up the sidewalk, I didn't realize that the family to whom I was working for was sitting on the , on the front steps and they watched me and as I was trying to shuffle and get my way up the sidewalk, by the time I reached them, they, yeah , they asked , "are, are you okay ?" "Have you been drinking? No. I said, I have not been drinking." And what would happen with me? If someone noticed something, I would just start crying. I started crying and I said, "no, I haven't had anything to , I have difficulty seeing at nights ." And they were so kind to me. As a matter of fact, they gave me my first airplane ride, sponsored it. And I went back to Durham, North Carolina at the end of the summer so that I could enroll in Duke University Nursing School. And that was another turning point in my life because when I applied for the nursing school, failed the eye exam and did not become a candidate for nursing.

Sara Brown:

So what after, so you failed your eye exam. What, where did you go? What would , what did you do next?

Ever Lee Hairston:

So I had an out to work at Duke University and that was one of the reasons that nursing really appealed to me. So she immediately took me to the optometrist and of course, many of the optometrist at that time, they were not familiar with the eye condition rec pigment. So of course he , uh , offered me a pair of glasses, which did no good. So anyway , I, I recall my aunt always saying, "put those glasses on." The glasses really, really were more harm to me than good because they were like an obstruction because I really couldn't, couldn't see at nights and they didn't understand that, but anyway, I didn't wanna be the defeated. It I'd gotten off of the plantation and I wanted to, to do something with my life. I didn't wanna return to the plantation. So what I did, is I enrolled in North Carolina Central university, which was in walking distance from my aunt and uncle. I had made enough money to pay for my tuition at nursing school, but not enough to pay, to live on campus at North Carolina Central University. So my aunt and uncle invited me to, to stay with them and I was able to attend , uh , North Carolina Center University. It was my third year at North Carolina Center university that Dr. King would come on campus and talk to all of the students on campus about out Civil Rights. And having grown up with such segregation, unable to go to the movie theaters , uh , unable to sit in a restaurant. My grandfather loved this place in, in um, town and it was called , um, uh , Pits Barbecue. And they, everybody loved it, but we could go inside and sit and have a sandwich. We would have to walk up to a window order our sandwich. And then we would have to go back to the car and eat our sandwich to take it home with us. So it was, it was these kinds of things. Or I remember as we were traveling one day and my 16 year olds, the one who died at 16 , um, she was very ill and got ill often as we were riding someplace. And I remember my father stopped at the service station and he wanted to , uh , to have my mother take my sister into the bathroom because she was, she was very sick, but we were told that we couldn't use the restroom and that's the way it was. And if you went into a department store , um, you couldn't even drink out of , they had two separate water fountains. One said "white," one said "color." And if you went into a , uh , department store, oftentimes , uh , you could not use the restroom. So having grown up you , if this, when Dr . King started talking about our Civil Rights, my ears perked up, I was so interested in what he was talking about. And he talked about, we must advocate for our rights. And so it was later on in that year, August, 1963, that we know that the March on Washington was held in Washington, D.C. At Lincoln Memorial. And so I was there when he gave his iconic speech, "I Have a Dream." What a compassionate man. And I had learned so much by participating in the Civil Rights Movement under Dr . King. While on campus, before going to Washington DC, Dr. King had organized a protest March, and we were protesting Sears, Roebuck and Co., because they refused to hire blacks. So from North Carolina Central campus to Sears, Roebuck and Co., five miles, we marched. And as we marched, there was rock stones and all kinds of debris thrown on us. But Dr. King taught us nonviolence and to focus on the ask rather than the people. And that's what we did. So not only were there students from North Carolina Central, but there were students from A&T College Greensboro NC who had come and in that crowd was Jesse Jackson . So we marched. And when we arrived at the parking lot, we sat down and we all started singing "over my head, there must be freedom in the air," we sang and shouted. And just actually trying to make sure that in spite of the problems that we were facing, that we still could have some fun and some humor and, and to entertain ourselves. And that's what we were doing. But suddenly the police moved onto the parking lot and ordered us to move. We refused the order. And then there were buses being driven onto the parking lot at a very fast speed . It was very, very frightening. We started screaming, crying, yelling, and soon afterwards, the buses came to a streaking halt. And so when the police got off the buses, they started pushing, shoving, picking some of us up and they threw us onto the buses and hauled us to jail. Dr . King included. And during that night in jail, we were packed, like sardines in a can . We were packed so tight and so close that wouldn't work today with COVID , but we were packed so tight that if we needed to perform mouth to mouth resuscitation, we could have. But during the night, an announcement came over the Intercom stating that the jail keeper had had a heart attack and died . This was frightening and fearful for us because we thought we would be blamed for the jail keeper's death. But anyway, the following morning, they let us out around 11 o'clock. And when we got out, I was even more frightened or fearful of going back to my aunt and uncle's house because nor did my aunt or uncle approve of me being involved in the Civil Rights Movement. I was afraid that they may pack me up and send me back to the plantation. But then, my parents also did not approve of me being involved. And the reason none of them approved of me being is because they were afraid of their jobs. If their employers learned that their daughter or their niece was involved in the Civil Rights Movement, they ran the risk of losing their jobs. But after thinking about that and praying about it, I knew and believed that that was the risk that I had to take. And so I did.

Sara Brown:

How did, how did those experiences impact you just psychologically and emotionally, you know, you're protesting you're , you're , people are throwing things at you, calling you all sorts of names. That's traumatizing.

Ever Lee Hairston:

Well, it, because we had learned and had been taught so well by Dr. King, really it, we didn't, I never was hit by anything of course name calling , but , uh, I was never , uh , struck with a , a rock or, or anything. And so, but, but Dr . King taught us just focus on what you're doing and keep moving. And that's what we did. We kept moving. We didn't stop. We didn't look at the people on the side, we just looked ahead and we kept moving.

Sara Brown:

Wow. So you just focused on the task at hand ?

Ever Lee Hairston:

Yes. Yes. And I think you become conditioned. And so the, the most frightening thing and doing that entire time was when we were sitting on the parking lot and it seemed like the, the buses were gonna run over us. That was truly, truly frightening. And one of the things that we had talked about doing and was praying and, and that's what we did.

Sara Brown:

Okay . So , you know, you are a outstanding storyteller. You're , you're answering the questions. I'm not even, I have, them listed. I'm like, "okay, got Dr . King ." I know you've told this story many times, but it's a , it's a heck of a story. So a few years later you've graduated college and you're in New Jersey, but your eyesight continues to deteriorate. Can you share what that was like and what was going on?

Ever Lee Hairston:

Once I graduated from college and it was not , um, it was in December instead of June. And I didn't graduate in June with the class because when my 16 year old , um, when the sister under me died at eight 16 , it was so hard for me. I couldn't take the final exams. So two of the courses I needed to take again, and I did in the beginning of September. And so I didn't graduate until December. So I left in December going to New Jersey and in hopes of getting a teaching job, but I had to wait. And so I applied at New Jersey , uh, in New Jersey for, for the Bank of New Jersey. And when I applied, I went in for the interview and the manager, as he was interviewing me leaned forward, and he said, "Ms . Hairston, I would love to hire you. But the policy in this bank is that we cannot hire blacks." That was such a culture shock to me. I couldn't believe that I was in New Jersey and experiencing this. You see, I thought, and my lack of understanding and knowledge, I thought that there was segregation in the states up North, if you will. But here I was facing the same type of discrimination.

Sara Brown:

What year? What , what year did you say this was?

Ever Lee Hairston:

19 ? It was, it was and 60 December , 1960 . But when I went to the interview, it was in January, 1965 .

Sara Brown:

And that was for the Bank of New Jersey?

Ever Lee Hairston:

The Bank of New Jersey. Later on, I had applied for a teaching position. And I got that job, which only lasted four years, teaching business education courses. And one of the classes was , um , shorthand. So when I would write shorthand briefs on the board, turn around to the class , it took my eyes with RP a much longer time to adjust from one spot to another . And so when I would do that, I , there were times I couldn't even see what was on the board, but so I turned back to the class and I'd start talking to them or I'd finally, I , I figured, okay, hopefully, and I'd turn to the board. And one day the stress, The stress of trying to do this without talking about my eye condition. I, I, I fainted it. I passed out and I was taken to the hospital and immediately the doctors are shining these lights in my eyes and saying, "are you on drugs? Have you taken drugs?" I was like, "no, I haven't taken any drugs. No, I don't even drink." And so , um, it was shortly after that, that I went, I finally went to Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. And that's when I got my diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa. That was the first time that I had a definitive diagnosis.

Sara Brown:

So all those years. So all those years when you had vision issues?

Ever Lee Hairston:

Yes.

Sara Brown:

No one ever knew what that officially was?

Ever Lee Hairston:

No. And then in addition to getting a definitive diagnosis, the doctor said to me, "more than likely you will go blind."

Sara Brown:

How did you take that type of news? How'd you take that?

Ever Lee Hairston:

I , I , I couldn't stop crying. I just couldn't stop crying. I thought, if I could just keep the light perception that I have, if I could just keep the vision that I have , I could make it, but it was frightening to think that I would actually go blind. And so , Um, After that, I was forced to resign from teaching. And then I got many other jobs working for the city of Camden, New Jersey. And I had taken a couple of jobs under the Federal Government. I took those jobs. And then finally , um, after years I took a Civil Service Exam so that I could become a counselor. And then I went to Rutgers University and took courses so that I could become certified as a counselor and to work towards a master's degree. And the way I had to study was recording the lectures of the professors and believe me, I had hundreds and hundreds of cassettes, and I would go home after class, listen to those cassettes, listen to those cassettes and listen to those consents consents. And that's how I was able to study and to pass the courses. So after passing the civil service exam, I had to take a position at the very bottom, which was a council trainee for the Department of Health and Human Services under the , uh , Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse. Uh , but it was called the Intoxicated Driver's Resource Center, where we were teaching drivers who had been charged with a drunk driving offense. We were teaching them and educating them about the danger of alcohol and driving. And that was easy for me because I wrote a lot of lectures and I had taught school. So that was good. And fortunately, I was able to move up the ladder pretty quickly. Instead of staying as Counselor Trainee, I moved up from Counselor to Senior Counselor, but then it was difficult to move higher because at that point. My eyesight had deteriorated drastically. And I knew I needed help, but, and, and I had gone to the New Jersey State Commission for the Blind to ask for help, but I wasn't getting the help I needed. I wanted to learn braille. They gave me sandpaper and asked me to fill it. And that would determine whether I would be eligible for the braille. They told me I wasn't eligible. So I did get some mobility , uh , lessons. And I learned to use the cane , But I wanted training and I was blessed with a phone call from the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore, Maryland. And the person said they would like to learn about me through the Commission for the Blind. And they thought that I should attend the National Federation of the Blind convention. And this was in 1987 and I made all kinds of excuses because I had a son that I was raising alone. And so, but I thought about it and I felt like this was my golden opportunity. So I said, let's compromise instead of going for a full week. Could I come for at least four to five days ? And that's what happened. I went to Phoenix, Arizona to my first NFB convention. I learned so much, but it was when I reached the registration desk. After standing in very long lines. And the young lady at the desk asked , "would you like a braille or a print agenda?" Oh my goodness. A light bulb went off of me. I'm thinking a "braille or, Or a print agenda?" I don't know braille. And I can no longer read print. I'm a college grad, but illiterate. So I talked to as many people as I could at that convention. Learned about all of the professions and the, the skills and the training people had gotten, who were blind. And I knew that this was for me, that's what I needed. So I went back to the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and asked for help to get to the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston, Louisiana. They denied me that opportunity. So I knew someone who lived in Louisiana. I went to stay with them so that I could become a resident of the State of Louisiana. And that's how I was able to get funded, to get the training at the Louisiana Center for the Blood. I went there in 1990 and graduated 1991. And when I returned to New Jersey after learning braille in a six month period, getting technology, training, computer skills. Getting orientation and mobility, Independent living skills, I returned to New Jersey with all of those skills. And I quickly began to integrate those skills into both my personal and professional life . You see, while I was in Louisiana, I built up my confidence and I knew that in order to maintain my job, there was some risk that I had to take while in Louisiana. And one was, I always tell this story, cuz it's One of the things that you have to do in order to graduate is to go and I graduate from on routes. So they took me to Monroe, Louisiana, and I had heard that, "oh my gosh, Monroe , uh , uh , it's not the greatest place for blacks." So anyway, they took me to Monroe, Louisiana, and then had given me instructions on that. I had to find the bus stop and take the bus to the Monroe Mall. I got off the bus and I thought, "oh my gosh," I was frightened. I thought I am out here all by myself in Monroe, Louisiana, probably Ku Klux Klan is all around. (laughing).

Sara Brown:

Exactly .

Ever Lee Hairston:

Oh God, I'm here by myself. And so I thought about Dr . King . He always taught, "don't focus on the people, focus on the task." And so I said a little prayer. I started walking, using my skills and there was a building that I came to. I went in and I asked, how could I find the bus stop? And she gave me an directions. The traffic underneath me, to the left of me . I didn't know where I was, but I continued to walk. And then there was a lady driving and she yelled out , "miss, where you going ? Let me help you ." I said , "miss, thank you so much , but you can't help me. I'm performing a test." She said, "well just where are you going?" I told her, "I'm trying to get to the bus stop so I can take a bus to the Monroe mall." She said, "keep going forward. And when you get to the end of the street turn right , and you will hear the buses." That was a sound. When I turned right and heard that bus, those buses, that was a sound that penetrated my soul. I tell you , I took a bus to the Monroe Mall. There was met with the students and staff... mission accomplish. And then another, another thing that they did. And I thought "these people must be crazy. What kinda training is this?" They took us. And you had to always stay in. There were groups of three. They took us to Mardi Gras. (Laughing). I know they're crazy. And so they gave us , uh , a card that had braille on it. And they, it had an address. You have your , you have to find this address, but it was on Bourbon Street. Can you imagine on Bourbon Street? So we are walking and it's noisy because as you're walking, there's, there's the blues going on your left. There's uh , gospel songs on the right, there's jazz. Straight ahead. You can hear all kinds of noise, but people were walking to the three of us and they would say , "let me read your fortune. Let me read your fortune. Come on ladies, let me reach a fortune." Then there were others saying , "let me pray . Let me pray for you. Let me pray for you." But the one that really took the cake for me was, this man walked up to us and obviously he had had a bit much to drink and he started singing Three Blind Mice. S ee h ow t hey r un?

Sara Brown:

Oh my gosh! Three Blind Mice?

Ever Lee Hairston:

And so again, think about it. What did Dr. King teach? And the other two were ready to just give up and fight back. And I said, "no, we can't do that. We're on a mission. Don't focus on these people. Let's stay focused on our task." We finished that task. And then the night of Mardi Gras, was another test, which we didn't not even know. You know, when the parade was over, everybody is ripping and running and going back to however , they were going to travel, either buses or walking or whatever. And the staff member had told us where they would park the car. And once the Mardi Gras was over that we were to come to of the bus and where it was parked. But as we were moving, people were scrambling and moving all around us. And so it was so difficult with all the noise. When you have RP , you become very oriented disoriented, because you cannot. It's like, "I can't hear cause it's so much noise." So when you can't hear, it's weird, you , you really, you really have very poor mobility skills. So I ran into a pole , it was a flag pole and I grabbed onto that pole and I told the other two, I said, "look, just let's stand here until it gets quieter. They won't leave us. Let's stand here." And we did. And they were crying. And I just knew that that was the best thing to do. So when the crowd had dispersed, I said, "we can go now. So we took out, canes and we only had a little less than a , a full block to walk, to get to the bus. And , uh , as we were approaching, one of the staff members said, "congratulations, you made it." And so I graduated from that center. So proud of what I had accomplished, but more proud of the fact that when I returned, as I said, and , and using these skills, but I was able to move up the ladder and eventually from supervisor and becoming the director of that program, I worked there for 26 years, but not only changing in my career, but I made changes in the National Federation of the Blind, my commitment, my dedication. I started the Garden State Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Cherry Hill, New Jersey. I became first Vice President of the New Jersey affiliate. I served on the National Scholarship Committee for 23 years. I became Vice President after moving to California, I became first Vice President and then elected as President of the California affiliate. I've been serving on the National Board for 12 years. Oh , it's been my 13th . And so I truly believe that my mission in life is to reach out to others And to help others to, and make this world a better place in which we live. And especially for the blind. And I cannot neglect the fact that it's important for black, blind females.

Sara Brown:

Your story. You've answered all a good chunk of my questions, just in your storytelling, which has me waited with baited breath for more and clenching the chair. But during your , the course of your career and your journey, where have you felt any resistance from or any biases from individuals? I mean, you are , are a black woman and you're visually impaired. Have you felt, or have you known that you've, you're being discriminated against or having any biases put against you?

Ever Lee Hairston:

Absolutely. Absolutely. Um , on the job , There were those white females and males who said, "I will not," when I became supervisor, they made the statement. "I will not work under a blind, black, female," but I was, I had confidence in myself. Then I said , "well, Then that means you're gonna have to find another job because I'm not leaving."

Sara Brown:

Wow. The sheer audacity is, is just unbelievable.

Jack Fox:

So you're on the board of NFB. You're on the Board of Directors.

Ever Lee Hairston:

Yes.

Sara Brown:

Can you talk about some of the work that you do that you do there?

Ever Lee Hairston:

As a member of the Board of Directors, I represent the president at state conventions. And so one incident I will share with you serving on the board, meaning that I traveled to many states. Stayed in many hotels. So I arrived and I'd rather not give the name, but I arrived at this, in this state. And I took a taxi to the hotel, immediately, went to my room and said that I would freshen up so that I could go and meet the president of this affiliate. So I left my room and walked towards the elevator. And when I approached the elevator bank , I could hear three people talking to each other. And obviously they were from the sound. I thought that they were three , uh , white females. And so they were talking about the convention and, just chit chatting. So I said, you know, "hello, good evening." Yeah , I'm just bubbly. "Good evening." I'm happy to be there. Hello . So they didn't say anything. I said , wait a minute, did they get on the elevator? And then they started talking again. So I said , "good evening. How are you ladies?" Not one word out of either one of them . So I heard the bell ring , meaning that the elevator was stopping on my floor. So I said, "are you ladies getting on again?" Silence. So I got on the elevator. I said, "are you ladies coming on?" And one lady said, "I'm not getting on with you." And she named , she said the "h" word . And I think, I think, I think the way I grew up and learned how ignorant some people are and how prejudice they are, because this is all they know, this is what they learned . This is how they grew up. I know who I am . And I learned who I am through Dr . King. So one might say, "wow, how , what was that for you? Someone call you the "N" word ." Well, I wasn't going to bring my myself down level . So I had a task to perform. I went downstairs. Now , this is the ironic thing I went downstairs. And shortly after I was standing and talking to the president, I heard one lady and it was the same voice I had heard. I think they , and they walked up to the president and say , "good evening. How are you?" You know , I said , and so the president said , "oh, meet our national representative."

Sara Brown:

How did that go ?

Ever Lee Hairston:

And it , it was obvious then that they were the ones because you, you know , they , oh , you know, you know , you could tell , you know , how a person is not sure what to say, how to say it. So it was , uh , oh , okay . So I, as national rep, I had to give a couple seminars. I gave the, the keynote address at their banquet. And so I that's what I did. And that's what I do.

Sara Brown:

Wow. Another, and you've got so many interesting facts. You're an author. So talk about your book, "Blind Ambition: One Woman's Journey to Greatness, Despite her Blindness." And what do you want readers to get out of it?

Ever Lee Hairston:

The reason that I wrote this book was because of the way I had grown up. And the part of the story that I haven't shared is that I was married in 1969. I had a son in 1970. And unfortunately that marriage did not last because I was losing my sight. I had a one year old son that I was taking care of and my, her husband was not faithful. And I felt like I could not handle that. I couldn't deal with that. So this is the one part of my life that I just don't like talking about. We were divorced. It was sad for me, very sad for me because I was losing my sight. And I felt like I had a one year old to manage and to take care of alone . But I made , I wanted to share the story so that others could see no matter what happens in our life, no matter what journey we are on, we don't have to give , we don't have the power to make life fair, but I believe we have the power to make life joyful. And I felt that sharing my story with others, black, white, blind sighted would inspire others. And that was the purpose. I got married a second time, years later. And that was very short-lived as well because my husband , uh , developed bone cancer. So our life together was only from '92 to '96. That's it ?

Sara Brown:

Is there any thing else you wanna add to this conversation just over your life, over the listens , you've learned anything you wanna say to our listeners out there?

Ever Lee Hairston:

I think I often think about the words of Dr. King and I think people who think about giving up are not wanting to deal with some of the challenges that we have in life. I think the words from Dr. King always helped me and I like to convey that to others. And it said, "if you can't fly, then run. If you can't run, then walk. If you can't walk, then crawl. Whatever you do, you must keep moving." And I believe that.

Sara Brown:

That's so true. Dr. King, what was he like? Dr . King? I know you marched with him and you were part of his , um , March on Washington, but what else was, I mean, I feel like, did you actually get to talk to him?

Ever Lee Hairston:

Oh yes.

Sara Brown:

What was he like?

Ever Lee Hairston:

He , he reached out. No one was too small or too insignificant for him. Although he was famous. So intelligent. And, but he always made you think that he was listening to every word and wanted to help you as an individual to be the best you could be. That's the thing I always got from him. But he , there was a lot of humor with him. He had a lot of humor . He always talked about that. Whatever you do enjoy some humor every day . He talked about that. And the other thing he often shared, which I have had to look at over the years and that is, he said, "have no regrets." "Remember yesterday's history. We did yesterday. That's history. Tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift." And then he said, he would say to us, "remember you never too old to do the things that you really want to do."

Sara Brown:

You tell a riveting story? I have been sitting here with my fists clenched and my breath held and just like, "okay, here we go." You are quite the trailblazer. And I really, from the bottom of my heart, wanna thank you for coming on here and sharing your story with us. And you've got a heck of one. Thank you so much again for joining me today on Change Makers.

Ever Lee Hairston:

Thank you. Thank you. You've been great.

Sara Brown:

And if you are interested in acknowledging change makers , we are accepting nominations for the Hall of Fame until Saturday, April 30. I've put a link in the show notes so you can submit your nomination. Thank you very much for listening to this episode of Change Makers as always be sure to find ways you can be a change maker this week.