The 49th Biennial NAD Conference officially kicked off with a drum song signed by Louisiana natives Betsie Marie Kulikov and Jesse Jones III. Facing a throng of 1,200 people who came to celebrate the vitality of Deaf America and the revitalization of New Orleans, the crowd witnessed a nonstop parade of ASL artistry, ASL music, words echoing themes of unity and empowerment, and a deep, abiding sense of culture and tradition.
Keynote speaker Evon Black said it best when she told the audience, “Music, food, dancing, language, art, civil rights activism, this is what New Orleans and our country is made of and why we are so special. We are here today in 2008, two years after Hurricane Katrina, a horrific natural disaster. What the people of New Orleans experienced was so powerful it could break their spirit.” Herself a 1981 graduate of Arkansas School for the Deaf and a current resident of Alabama, she spoke to the resolve of our community when times challenge our community. “The spirit of NAD and all of you sitting in the audience today, Deaf Americans, is almighty. Yet we have much work to do, we are not done. Together, we can move forward. Righteousness flows like a mighty stream.”
Paul William Ellis, a theologian who has ministered to the Deaf Community throughout the United States, Japan, Korea and the Philippines, enlivened the room when he danced to jazz and brought an extraordinary sense of Southern revelry for which the city is famed. “New Orleans is a place where grace has touched us all… It’s celebration time, come on! It’s celebration time, come on, come on! Let’s all celebrate and have a good time!”
NAD President BBS awarded the Frederick Schreiber Distinguished Service Award to Bernard Bragg, a famed stage actor, playwright, author, and “a national treasure.” Renowned stage actress Phyllis Frelich received the NAD Lifetime Achievement Award for her enormous contributions to Deaf theatre, which include co-founding the National Theatre of the Deaf and winning the 1980 Tony award for her role in the play “Children of a Lesser God.”
Video commercials, an abundance of inspiration and oration, a rendition of George Veditz’s immortal 1913 speech on the preservation of ASL, and much more filled the evening program.
It’s official… the conference has begun! Laissez les Bons Temps Roulez! Let the Good Times Roll!