Make no mistake about it: Victoria Reese is fierce. She’s a woman who oozes strength, style, and savvy. As CEO of the boutique creative consultancy, Victor Group LA— and all-around cool chick — she has become an inspiration to women of color and over 10,000 followers on Instagram.
But in 2012, her fierceness was put to the ultimate test when she learned that she had relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS). The disease acts differently in different people, and Reese spent the months right after her diagnosis trying to learn everything she could. But as she continued to dig further, she found herself staring into a kind of MS void. She knew she couldn’t be the only black woman with the illness. And she was right.
A 2015 study from the American Academy of Neurology found that African Americans have a 47 percent increased risk of developing MS, compared to Caucasians. And women have three times more risk than men.So where were these hundreds of people? The women of color? Where and how could she find them?
I was taught early on that some of our battles are not meant for us, that we are simply the vessels used for others to learn from. The MS community (that looks like me) needed a face, it needed a voice. So today (8/14), on what would have been my father’s 56th birthday, marks the beginning of my movement. @WeAreILLmatic is a campaign that unites Women of Color who have been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and want to REDEFINE what “sick” looks like. This is our story, it's time you see US. We aren't just ill, we are the ILLEST. And yes, @nas let us borrow the name. To learn more about the campaign, donate, or become a sponsor please visit the www.weareillmatic.com. Happy birthday to my daddy, Victor! I hope you are proud. #WeAreILLmatic #victorgroup
If anything deserved a hashtag, this did — and Reese knew just how to go about building a powerful online community. This year, she created #WeAreILLmatic, a first-of-its-kind support system for women of color living with multiple sclerosis (MS). With the campaign, Reese set out to change the landscape, redefine the image of “sick,” and unite the community of blacks living with the disease.
Online communities are increasingly important places for people to find support. A study in the African Journal of Disability cites that even people with MS who are more passive, non-commenters in online communities find reprieve and benefits. With the backdrop of stories from more active users, they receive emotional support, information, and social companionship. They know, for maybe the first time, that they’re not alone.
For #WeAreILLmatic, Reese took inspiration from the legendary rapper, Nas (who’s also given permission to use this name). His iconic 1994 album, “Illmatic,” has made a mark on music history. “We want to leave a mark on culture like Nas did with Illmatic,” their website says.
The women who are sharing their #WeAreILLmatic stories are inspiring and dynamic.
"I was diagnosed 11 years ago. I haven't given up on life though and I keep living regardless of this crazy uncontrollable sickness. This campaign is important for women of color because it brings awareness to MS. For years, everyone would say people of color or blacks could not be diagnosed with MS. But then this amazing thing happened... I was able to look around to see that it's more people that look like me and I realized that I am NOT doing this alone. I have my sisters" #weareillmatic #msawareness
The next steps for #WeAreILLmatic is a 10-part, yearlong social media awareness tour which aims to bring eyes to the underserved topics regarding MS. The first part, “The Genesis,” is already in motion as more MS warriors share their stories using the hashtags #weareillmatic, #thegenesis, and #msawareness.
After The Genesis, here’s a sneak peek into the future of Reese’s movement:
- M.S. State of Mind
- Life’s a B*tch
- The World Is Yours
- Memory Lane
- One Love
- One Time 4 Your Mind
- It Ain’t Hard to Tell
From the titles alone, it looks like the MS community has something new and amazing to look forward to.
Reese is now an ambassador for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, where she works as a mentor and activist in the MS community. Of her sizzling online community, Reese says, “We may be ill, but we are still dope.”