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Celebrating Black History Month within the MS community

By Shambrekiá Wise

Some of you are probably still detoxing from the holidays, (I know I am), but as of Feb. 1, it’s a celebration in our home all month long. In case you’re unfamiliar, February is National Black History Month, when we honor the trials and tribulations Black people have endured (and still are enduring) so that our children’s futures can be triumphant. 

While there is no shortage of the successes I can highlight, I want to especially take time to recognize the contributions of African Americans within the multiple sclerosis community. For those who have made it their mission to advocate for the proper diagnosis, treatment, and our voices being heard, we say “thank you.” 

Drugs for MS have been manufactured since the early 1990s and have been approved by the FDA as recently as December 2022. But there is still a huge disparity in the Black community regarding taking part in clinical trials. According to staunch MS advocate and neurologist Dr. Mitzi Joi Williams, the lack of representation in these trials could hinder researchers from fully grasping if the medications being brought to the market are biologically effective or worse, even detrimental, to an entire race of people. An example of race having an important hand in clinical trials can be found in research conducted by NYU Langone Medical Center, which reported hypertension drugs containing ACE inhibitors lead to statistically worse cardiovascular outcomes for African Americans than their white counterparts. Williams, while highly skilled in her craft, takes time to educate on the bare bones of MS to all communities, encourage active patient-physician relationships, and, most importantly, she’s uplifting to every patient and shares her light of optimism for life that can be well-managed while living with MS. 

MS warriors come from all different walks of life and I was beyond thrilled to cross paths with Victoria Reese and Lauren Hutton-Work in January 2020. During a MS roundtable, I learned how very similarly our walks of life were after our diagnosis. A few particular things we all had in common was that we decided early not to let this disease own us, that we would use our voices in advocating for our health, and we’d simultaneously help others battling with MS rewrite the blueprints of their lives. Together, they do this effortlessly through We Are ILL, a nonprofit that focuses on helping Black women with MS ensure they are seen and heard. 

A chronic diagnosis is rarely something easy for anyone to digest, but Victoria has ensured that no Black woman has to walk this path alone. It’s important to acknowledge that Victoria and Lauren both, like many other Black women, have experienced their fair share of doctors not believing their pain or symptoms could have arrived from anything other than just a stressful day at the office. Misdiagnosis is prevalent in our community, but I am so grateful these two women are making it their mission to see that becomes a thing of the past.

As this month proceeds, I urge you to look both to our well-known heroes of days passed as well as to the “victors” of today, especially those making their mark for all those affected by MS. May you be well and until next time.