It was the darkest day in the life of young John Charles Kimbrough. Literally.
During a creative activity at the Southwest DeKalb Summer Arts Camp, John told his twin sister, Jocelyn Cheryl, that he could not see. They made a pact to finish the camp day by walking arm-in-arm and sticking together until his sight returned.
Jocelyn, now a minister, recalls their faith was based on a Bible verse. The camp counselors uncovered the 8-year-olds’ secret after John gained a few bruises from walking into doors and tripping over children while he was changing into his dance clothes.
Seven eye surgeries later, in early August 1995 the surgeons declared John would not regain his eyesight. The after-effects of the meningitis that crept upon him at 3 months old severely damaged his retinas.
The news of the inevitable hit me in the midsection and I landed in a familiar, uncomfortable hospital chair. John was asleep in his hospital bed with bandages covering his eyes.
Our pastor arrived and asked his dad, Wendell Kimbrough, Sr., and me if we believed John would see again. Realizing his question was spiritually metaphoric, I replied, “Yes.” I did not know then how much John would open my eyes to a world of focused, sightless individuals and their advocates.
This Mother’s Day weekend, John will receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Lindenwood University in Southern Illinois. With his twin sister as his guide, John will be bestowed with magna cum laude honors, and will begin graduate work in June.
John’s big brother, W. Earl Kimbrough II—a math teacher at Rickards High School and Ph.D. candidate at Florida A&M University—and I will join John’s grandparents and more family and friends to witness what some doctors and therapists suggested would be next to impossible.
It is in the impossible that John has guided me to live. His infant brain grew at a rate faster than his skull could withstand, and he was scheduled for life-altering surgery. He suffered from seizures and was at risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The seizure medicine was addictive and the weaning process was like that of an adult addict. It was horrible, but necessary, for a three-year-old.
Medical insurances dropped John’s coverage because of pre-existing conditions, so the hospital stays and doctors’ visits were out-of-pocket expenses. John was developmentally delayed by 18 months compared to his twin; he lost hearing in one ear, and learned to walk much later than she did.
Today he is in the early stages of prepping for a kidney transplant, as the harsh medicines that saved his life cost him an organ.
Yet John has thrived and so have we — during periods of financial, emotional, physical and spiritual challenges. He is a skier, golfer, goal ball player and a track and field competitor. John was named a Helen Keller scholar and spent a week in a leadership institute in New York.
He has helped with hurricane relief while a student at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, and received accolades and scholarships during his high school graduation. He married and is the father of a 5-year-old daughter Jazymyn, who lives in Ocala with her mother. Eventually, he returned to Lindenwood to finish his degree.
It is because of John that Florida legislation was signed by former Gov. Jeb Bush to streamline and facilitate the process for disabled students to take the then-FCAT. I asked state legislators to mandate the Education Department to offer John a Braille test. The governor’s office staff, initially incensed with me for my advocacy, created a statewide task force and placed me on the committee.
I’ve been trained as a blind guide, participated in “Dinner in the Dark” fundraisers, taken elementary school field trips as John’s chaperone. The most memorable was a camping trip when John and I laid on the cool grassy knoll and I described the stars in the sky. John, whose memory became nearly "steel trapped" after he his lost sight, explained the configuration of the constellations.
There is not enough space to describe the insults I’ve endured, tears I’ve shed, miles I’ve traveled and the sleep that will never be returned, all for John. His siblings and other family members have shared in the joys and pain.
This Mother’s Day, we count it all joy.
The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind is a tuition-free state public school and outreach center available to eligible Pre-K and K-12 students who are deaf/hard of hearing, blind/visually impaired, or deafblind. At FSDB, students learn how to do more, be more, and achieve more, fulfilling our vision of preparing them for a lifetime of success. FSDB gratefully accepts private donations to support vital programs that directly benefit students and are not paid by state general revenue funds. For a campus tour or to inquire about eligibility for enrollment, contact FSDB Parent Services at 904-827-2212 voice or 904-201-4527 videophone. For more information, visit www.fsdbk12.orgwww.fsdbk12.org.