There is no doubt that there is rich and thwarted history of RID regarding the relationship between the organization, its members, and the Deaf Community. I remember my first RID Conference in San Antonio, Texas (2005) where the majority of attendees used spoken English and I was lost. That year, Dennis was not there. His mother had passed away and it was THE ONE conference he was unable to attend. As past President of RID and a huge supporter of the organization, he left a void: our mentor was not there to guide us through the experience, the politics, and answer the myriad of questions we had! I will never forget the impact that first conference experience had on me and my perspective and perception of RID and our membership at large.
The Cokely Café was an idea that took root when the RID Communications Director, Bill Millios, reached out after realizing that our next generation can benefit from support at the conference. When he called on me to discuss how to provide a structured experience at this year’s conference, I was immediately transported back to my 22-year-old self, lost, confused, and frustrated at that conference. As we continued to brainstorm ideas, it was clear that this was an opportunity to provide space for our next generation, regardless of age, sex, race, or creed, to gather and ask a myriad of questions like, “What is going on?! What does this mean? Why did they say that? What happened that caused this bylaw? What the heck is a bylaw?” And honestly, the most important thing we wanted to make very clear is, we value you! You are so important to us! You are our next generation!
So what did this actually look like? To be candid, it was an organic process. I had a vision, RID leadership supported it, and we had what ended up being an abundant week! There were moments that were inspiring, uplifting, sobering, raw, and humbling.
The process: we sent out a call to the Emerging Practitioners who registered for the conference. We had 25 Emerging Practitioners respond to that call. I also requested the Chair of our Northeastern Alumni group to share this vision with our alums so we could have NU representatives present and connected during the week as well. A huge shout out to Jeanette Corso, Amanda Moyer, Lori Bellama, and Jaki Torres for being present that week for people. We had 10 Emerging Practitioners join us for the opening Happy Hour gathering on Saturday evening, which was a wonderful event to get to know each other and set the tone for the week. We had coffee every morning prior to programming so that we could gather, check in with each other, and prepare for the day. We also were able to have some inspiring guests during the lunch hour on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.