As Naima Hall tells it, she had a hard time finding her way in the world of work. For a while she did construction work, then bartended. Only after a few more minutes into our conversation did she mention that this phase of her career came after she worked for the International Trade Division of Tiffany & Co. and directed New York City’s Sister City Program through the United Nations. These roles, while high-profile, left her empty.
“I felt like my life wasn’t real,” she said. “I had titles and positions that sounded interesting. And I felt like a blank slate. My family was proud, but I couldn’t get through the cognitive dissonance of achieving but feeling empty.”
Her next step came from an unlikely source – Craig’s List.
“The Helen Keller School for the Blind placed an ad for volunteers,” Naima said. “When I arrived, the social connectedness was there, the good cause, the good mission. “I think I knew I was on the brink of an aha moment, but had questions about vocational sustainability and next steps.”
Her answer came quickly. After a few weeks, the principal of Helen Keller saw Naima’s potential and volunteered to write her recommendation for the master’s program in deaf and hard of hearing education at Hunter College. She eventually added this degree to her bachelor’s degree in communications and master’s degree in urban policy and planning to become an itinerant service provider for New York City’s Department of Education. As a teacher in the largest education program in the world serving students who are blind and visually impaired from preschool to 21 years of age, Naima goes onsite to provide braille and advocacy work for students who integrated into a general population setting. She turns print material into braille, either by hand or electronically, and makes tactile models of concepts using embossing tools and haptic construction materials to help students comprehend teachers’ instruction. She also teaches students how to advocate for themselves and ensures that schools are compliant in their educational delivery to this specialized population.
“I make stuff, teach stuff and get out of the way,” she laughed.
To expand the state’s core curriculum and further support her students, Naima used a 2018 Fund for Teachers grant to explore French historic sites attributed to the inventor Louis Braille and investigate French-inspired multisensory, experiential learning opportunities.
Read more about Naima’s fellowship here.
“Not a day that goes by that my students and I are not in proximity to the embossed system of writing Louis created during his life,” said Naima. “This fellowship was a career apex and reaffirmed my passion and sense of purpose within my own vocation.”
This experience, especially a teary eyed moment at Louis Braille’s grave, provided the inspiration to push through a difficult career aspiration – earning certification as a Library of Congress Certified Braille transcriber last fall. Fewer people pass this accreditation than the CPA or the bar percentagewise, making it one of the most difficult certifications to earn in the world.
The moral to Naima’s story? Don’t settle and don’t sell out.
“Sometimes young people jump in and stick in it for too long. I just kept leaving,” she said. “People looked at me like I was bananas when I left Tiffany & Co. and the United Nations. I couldn’t tell them why I left, but I knew I couldn’t stay, but I thought, “If I am dying on a long arc, I don’t want to go out with this being it. There’s a difference between quitting and reclaiming your life.”
Naima invites everyone to follow virtually the New York City Braille Challenge, on March 8-10, 2021. This annual, city-wide event has four components: the academic competition, a braille experience, parent workshops and interactive activities.