The Solution to the Problem: #WeAreIllmatic
MADE By: AJ Linton
Victoria Reese, founder of the Victor Group, sought out to redefine what sick looks like. Her 10-part social media awareness campaign #WeAreIllmatic. is for those who, like herself, are suffering with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Co-signed by Nas, Reese is on a journey to fill the void of millennial women of color battling this illness.
#WeAreIllmatic what a dope campaign and title patterned after Nas’ 1994 debut album. Talk a bit about how the concept came about and how you came to get his permission for usage?
I stumbled across Illmatic on my timeline and thought, “let me flip this word.” A lot of people know about this album because it came out in ’94 but it wasn’t something that I knew religiously because I’m not a “hop-hop head.” However, I am a fan of Nas and like most my age we respect him and this album. I wanted to really focus on the “ill” part of Illmatic and use it for it’s literal meaning of being sick and relate to being sick with Multiple Sclerosis. Being a Victor Group campaign, I also realized that I’ve connected Hip Hop albums to brand development in some way as we’ve done with Illmatic. For a year now, I’ve served as a MS ambassador for LA but I’ve always wanted to step up and do something more independent. It’s a known fact that the MS society is has a disconnect with the minority audience especially black women. Thus prompting me to create something just for us. In regards to gaining permission for usage, I work in entertainment and all of my mentors and colleagues are well established in the industry. I had been talking to one of my colleagues about what I was doing and that I wanted to get in contact with Nas or his team in regards to the campaign. After obtaining his managers contact info, I reached out and his team was supportive and awesome in embracing what the campaign stood for and it was just a bonus when he posted the video online.
In 2012, you were diagnosed with Relapsing Remitting MS. How did you feel learning that you had such a serious condition at a young age?
When I was first diagnosed I was really scared because I didn’t know that much about it. It’s one of those illnesses that everyone knows somebody that has it but they don’t know the name of it. I also took the time to educate myself by researching what it was. I felt really fearful of my future because I didn’t know what my fate would end up being with this kind of illness. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a hard worker and wanted a great career of purpose and immediately after being diagnosed I thought of how affected it would be. Additionally, I thought of my personal future, things I desire like marriage and children and the impact it’d have on that. MS is known as a “snowflake disease,” because no condition is exactly the same and the symptoms go from A-Z. After the intense research I decided to focus on me by accepting it and being open to all possibilities. I also decided to be open through my social media platforms because I didn’t want to suffer alone. So I decided to take people on my journey through this fight.
I saw that in your research you noticed there was a void in representation for millennial women of color who suffer from MS. Why was it important for you to fill that void and not suffer in silence?
I believe things come to you in time. The universe will come to you and show you certain things but it definitely takes time. I didn’t set out to become an ambassador; I didn’t set out to reach the MS society, I didn’t set out to be on social media with it. Additionally, I didn’t know that who I was as a black millennial woman was an audience that was underserved. And I didn’t realize that people feel the same way as me. Honestly, it took me about two years to meet another person with M. and talk about it. That was life changing for me. It’s so ironic that so many have it but you don’t know. Things were being revealed to me. As a started going to MS walks, which they have in most major cities, I saw a sea of white people and I was like where are the black people that I know that have this? I would only see a sprinkle of us in there. I thought it was either one of two things, either the MS society has a problem connecting with people of color or people of color do not reach out and raise their hand and seek help for illnesses like this from society. Now that I work with the MS society, I know that it’s both. Through becoming an ambassador, I noticed more people were comfortable in reaching out to me directly about their journey discovering or dealing with the fact that they have MS. After this realization, I wanted to begin to create something that would become a solution to the problem.
Your slogans are, “Redefine what sick looks like” and “I may be sick but I’m still dope.” What an empowering statement. What do you hope to accomplish through your 10-part social media driven awareness tour?
The reason why we chose 10 parts is because we wanted to have an active and eventful campaign. You’ll find that a lot of campaigns are 12 months or however long and there really isn’t much to it. It’s social media and digitally driven because I knew that I couldn’t just affect people in the LA market because I don’t know that many people here that suffer from MS. After becoming an ambassador that really opened up my market to have sisters in every city that battle with MS. The additional reason why we chose 10 parts is because it’s 10 tracks to the Nas inspired Illmatic album. Each part of the campaign reflects one of the tracks with a few unique alterations. Also, there are so many ways for people to become involved through and with this campaign, which I love. If you are a woman of color that battles from MS, you can certainly join in on this campaign through participation. There is no campaign if we don’t speak up and tell our story, it’s imperative that’s it’s not only me. For those who don’t suffer from MS, you can follow us on Instagram @weareillmatic where you are able to stay updated on the campaign and how to participate. There are many sponsorships available as we aim to make this an international campaign and raise funds to make a donation to the MS society for research.