As a University of Dayton student over 30 years ago, I was friends with Jim Kebe, now of Bexley, Ohio. Recently, I emailed to say hello and asked as an aside if he had cerebral palsy. I had always suspected, but never known for sure. We hadn’t seen each other since college.
In a telephone interview, 54-year-old Kebe said, “Growing up, I was always conscious of the way I walked because of cerebral palsy. I was easy to make fun of and today they would call that bullying. My most painful memories are of walking east on Lakeshore Drive in Euclid, Ohio, to go to Catholic school. The public school kids walking east would see me coming and imitate the way I walked. That sense of being conscious (of my gait) made me hesitant to try sports or do anything in public. I would even wait until people weren’t looking before walking across a room.”
From these experiences, Kebe said he developed empathy and became more aware of people with disabilities who might need more love, compassion or time.
“If seeing someone taunting another person today, I’d directly step in and challenge that person in a loving way,” he said. “Often the person doing the taunting is masking his (or her) own hurts and insecurities. I try to be compassionate, not only to the taunted person, but also to the taunter. I always try giving people a graceful way out of situations.”
For years, he had trouble getting past why God had allowed him to have cerebral palsy. Kebe had nine brothers and sisters. What helped him come to terms with his disability, he said, was realizing that if one of his siblings had to have cerebral palsy, he (Jim) would have been more than willing to “take one for the team” because he wouldn’t wish his disability on any of them.
Today, Kebe is married and has one daughter. He is executive director of The Stewardship Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization providing charitable organizations legacy and endowment opportunities for gift planning.
He advised people with cerebral palsy: “It’s not your fault and it’s not something that should make you feel ashamed. It is what it is and you may not understand why, but it is. I always felt I had to explain or justify why I walked the way I did. Who would choose this?”