Photo credit: WeAreILLmatic

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?

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.

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
  • Halftime
  • Memory Lane
  • One Love
  • One Time 4 Your Mind
  • Represent
  • 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.”

Allison Krupp is an American writer, editor, and ghostwriting novelist. Between wild, multi-continental adventures, she resides in Berlin, Germany. Check out her website here.