Essie Florence has been living with lupus since 1997, when she was a senior in high school. After her business partner Marie Abston was diagnosed in 2016, the two women realized they could give back to their community and help others by raising awareness about lupus.
Systemic lupus erythematosus, known simply as lupus, is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system mistakenly and randomly attacks healthy body tissue. The disease can be moderate or severe, with painful and debilitating symptoms including fatigue, body pain, swollen joints, and a rash.
According to Lupus News Today, roughly 1.5 million Americans have the disease, and approximately 1 in 250 people may end up developing it in their lives. Most sufferers are women of color; 1 in every 537 black women is affected by the disease. But according to a 2012 Lupus Foundation of America article, more than 70 percent of Americans aged 18-34 were unaware of what lupus even was—a reality Florence and Abston felt in their everyday life, fielding questions about the disease.
“It is a livable disease, but it is a hard disease to live with, and we just wanted to let people know what it is and what the side effects are and what you should look for,” Florence said.
So in May 2017, the HamiltonDavis Home Care, Inc. Lupus Awareness Weekend was born. The weekend features a Friday gala with a guest speaker, dinner, and entertainment, and a walk on Saturday, and is sponsored by HamiltonDavis Home Care, Inc., operated by Florence and Abston. Last year, Florence says, with the help of social media and word-of-mouth interest among her network, there were about 150 to 200 registrants for the event; this year, she says, there were over 300.
Florence believes social media played a big part in the initial and subsequent success of the event. “I think that when people found out about the event late last year, we got a lot of responses from people saying ‘Man, I wish I knew about the walk,’” Florence said. “I think more people had prepared to attend the event this year because they missed out last year.”
“We just can’t wait until next year to see how it expands because we’re planning on doing something bigger and better next year, so we’re excited about the future of the Lupus Awareness Weekend,” Florence said.
To Florence, seeing the “outpour of support” from individuals is the satisfying part of her work to empower, uplift, and inform— and what makes Lupus Awareness Weekend so important.
“I think you don’t have to be affected personally,” Florence said. “If you just want to create awareness, that inspires people to let other people know about the disease—that’s what inspired us to let others know how this affects people.”
How to get involved:
Be sponsors. The 3rd annual Mississippi Lupus Awareness Weekend is already in the works for next May, but the planners are already working toward it. “With that committee, we plan on being able to cover more of the state.”
Make connections. From what I’m gathering, there isn’t another Lupus Weekend or Walk in my state, so we would like to be able to reach other people throughout the state to make this grander and bigger.
Manpower Like any volunteer event, workers for the gala, the walk, and other events would greatly assist in the weekend going smoothly.
Vendor tables. Keep in touch! If you represent an organization or business that you think would benefit from having a table at the Lupus Awareness Walk, mark your calendars for next May!
Donate via mail with form on website. Stay tuned to be able to donate online!