Afi Tiombe Kambon is a ray of sunshine.
She dresses in colorful clothing and has a permanent smile on her face. She makes it a point to encourage fellow participants and is always on the move, refusing to let disabilities hinder her from living a full life.
Born in Berkeley, lost a leg at age 11
Afi was born in Berkeley in 1948 in a segregated maternity ward and has lived in the Bay Area all her life. She has also lived with asthma since childhood. After losing one of her legs to bone cancer at age 11, her mom taught her she was equal to everyone else.
On crutches to the modeling agency
Following her leg amputation, she learned how to get around on crutches. She praises her mother, family, and community for boosting her confidence because they didn’t treat her any different than before she lost her leg. “Everyone said I walked with swag,” she says with a big smile. “I was so cute, you couldn’t tell me I wasn’t cute.” It wasn’t until she went to a modeling agency audition as a teenager that she was told they didn’t “take handicapped people” as clients. When she told her mom what they said, her mom reiterated that she was equal to everyone else.
Traveling the world, talking about disability
Though she never became a model, she volunteered for the Red Cross and had many other jobs. During college, she was a Black history major and learned that during slavery, disabled people were killed rather than helped to adapt. This appalled her and she began to actively advocate for the betterment of humankind. Attending college allowed her to travel around the U.S. on the college circuit speaking about herself and her disability. Despite all her work, she feels that it wasn’t until the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act that equal rights were granted to disabled people.
Feeling unsafe, she became a recluse
Teaching art classes for the City of Berkeley allowed Afi to socialize and was an expressive career as dear to her heart as activism. Unfortunately, her life took a drastic turn after she was a victim of repeated assaults. She had been an art teacher for 17 years, yet her hands shook after the assaults and she often felt confused and vulnerable. She never felt safe and became a recluse inside her own house, where she lives alone.
Couldn’t live as a shut-in any longer
It wasn’t until a friend told her she couldn’t live as a shut-in anymore and introduced her to CEI that she began to think her life could get better. Afi says people from CEI visited her right away and enrolled her in the program quickly. When her social worker asked her what her goals were for her care, she said, “To walk the two blocks to CEI from my home and to get help with my medications because I can’t afford them.” She says CEI has surpassed her expectations, adding that her favorite thing about CEI is being around other participants and socializing with them.
Afi couldn’t walk 5 feet. Now you can’t stop her
She’s been in the program for three years now. “CEI gave me therapy. I did therapy once a week for about a year… it was a gradual thing. Five steps, one block to a few blocks and then you couldn’t stop me. I had asthma so bad I couldn’t walk more than five feet without running out of air. I was in bad shape mentally and physically and now I’m going everywhere by myself.”
She said it literally took baby steps in order for her to mentally and emotionally get past her assaults and to physically be able to get around without being scared for her safety, or exhausted from asthma and getting around on crutches. She says she’s “100% better” and has a vibrant life again.
Actress and NAACP Secretary
“She lights up when she speaks about her participation in a play at the Black Repertory Group Theater and appears to have been bitten by the acting bug,” says her CEI social worker Radiant Scoggins. “Ms. Kambon exemplifies the true definition of resilience.” She even joined the NAACP and was recently voted Secretary. All is good and getting better – the sun keeps shining on Afi Tiombe Kambon.