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Episode 10: Dawnia Marie IS Brightside 365

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

GUEST: Dawnia Marie, MS Advocate, and Founder and CEO of Brightside 365

March is Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Awareness Month, and we're celebrating with my very dear friend and fellow MS Warrior, Dawnia Marie. We talk about everything from the pros and cons of self-help groups, to our relationships with providers and celebrating our diagnoses. MS is a debilitating disease, but it doesn't dim our light. And my friend Dawnia Marie, a true representation of Brightside 365, is an amazing example and reminder for all of us to - keep living! #DisabilityPride

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As language, perceptions and social mores change at a seemingly faster and faster rate, it is becoming increasingly difficult for communicators to figure out how to refer to people with disabilities. This style guide, developed by the National Center on Disability and Journalism at Arizona State University, is intended to help. It covers almost 200 words and terms commonly used when referring to disability.

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OUR GUEST: Dawnia Marie

Dawnia Marie was born in Pittsburgh, PA. At the age of 9, she moved to Los Angeles because her father was pursuing his music career. Dawnia resided in Inglewood, CA and graduated from Inglewood High. At the age of 20, Dawnia moved to Atlanta, GA. She received an undergraduate degree in Business Administration from NCCU and a Masters degree in Corporate Finance and Project Management.

In 2006, Dawnia’s body went numb from her chest down and in her hands. After a trip to the ER, a neurologist visit, and hours of MRI’s, Dawnia was diagnosed with Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis. In 2013 Dawnia moved back to California and in 2014 she was taking a class through the MS Society at USC. Through the class Dawnia began volunteering with the MS Society. This lead to being featured in a USC magazine, assisting in the office at the MS Society, being flown to Seattle, Washington to film a resilience campaign video, featured on the cover of the MS Momentum magazine, featured in multiple articles, becoming a District Activist Leader which she visits local government offices, flies to the capitol in California and Washington, DC to advocate for bills that benefit people living with MS and other sicknesses and diseases, was a part of the WeAreIllmatic campaign for women of color diagnosed with MS, an interview with KTLA regarding the Marilyn Hilton MS Achievement Center at UCLA, a video for Yahoo Lifestyles, We Believe campaign video for the MS Society, and asked to participate in a video for the Hilton family.

The most important thing was becoming a self-help group leader. Currently, Dawnia is a self-help group facilitator for adults in their 20s, 30s, and 40s for the National MS Society. Seeing a need for a self-help group for teens, Dawnia spearheaded a self-help group for High School students and quickly spread to College Students called MS Youngsters that began in 2017. The MS Youngsters lovingly refer to her as their MS momma.

In 2020 Dawnia received the Inspirational Person of the Year Award for the Southern California/ Nevada Chapter of the NMSS. She also received the 2020 L.O.V.E. (Ladies Operating Very Effectively) Overcomer Award. Most recently she received the 2020 Volunteer Inspiration Award.

Dawnia is a caregiver for her father who is also diagnosed with MS that is now bedridden. Since he lives in Pittsburgh she coordinates everything by phone, trips back to Pittsburgh to go to doctor's appointments with her dad, has relationships with every person involved in his care, and family that still lives in Pittsburgh. True to her reputation, she maintained a positive outlook even after her diagnosis. Dawnia knows that God wasn’t bored one day and allowed her to be diagnosed with MS. She knows there is a purpose in every challenge and avoids asking "why me?". Dawnia's positivity can be attributed to her ability to see the bright side in every situation. She desires to show people another perspective when life presents seemingly insurmountable challenges. Dawnia is an example of what it means to make the necessary adjustments in order to continue living a fulfilling life. Dawnia is determined to not compare herself to others, but to focus on her blessings and who God designed her to be as she continues to live on the bright side!

TRANSCRIPT

Sarah Kirwan

Today, we’re talking with my very dear friend and fellow Multiple Sclerosis Warrior, Dawnia Marie, and we’re here celebrating MS Awareness Month.

Sarah Kirwan

Dawnia was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and currently resides in Los Angeles, California. She holds an undergraduate degree in Business Administration from NCCU and a master’s degree in Corporate Finance and Project Management

Sarah Kirwan

She has been featured in MS Momentum Magazine, and several National Multiple Sclerosis Society campaign videos, including living with resilience and we believe. She is also a District Activist Leader, where she works with government officials to promote MS policy and legislation in both Sacramento, California, and Washington, DC. However, Dawnia says the most important thing she’s done was become a self-help group leader. She’s currently the facilitator for the YPG Self-Help Group, which is a group for adults in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. And, seeing the need for a self-help group for teens, she founded MS Youngsters in 2017. This group of high school and college students lovingly refer to her as their MS Momma.

Sarah Kirwa

True to her reputation, Dawnia does not let MS or anything else stand in her way or dim her light. She has an amazing ability to see the Brightside of every situation, and desires to show people another perspective when life presents seemingly insurmountable challenges. Dawnia is a wonderful friend and example of what it means to make the necessary adjustments in order to continue living a full life. She is determined not to compare herself to others, but to focus on. Her blessings and who God designer her to be, as she continues to live on the bright side!!

Sarah Kirwan

Good morning, my friend, and welcome to Incluse This!

Dawnia Marie

Good morning. Thank you for having me.

Sarah Kirwan

I’m so happy to have you here today. We're celebrating Ms. Awareness month together. Woot woot.

Dawnia Marie

Yes. Woo Hoo!

Sarah Kirwan

I feel like it was just March or it's still March or March never ended. So hasn't it been Ms. Awareness year?

Dawnia Marie

I think so. I really do. I think we shouldn't have an MS awareness year. I wonder if we can do that. That would be awesome because people need to know. Good question.

Sarah Kirwan

You were officially diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2006, and I believe you were diagnosed when you were living in Atlanta, correct?

Dawnia Maria

That is correct. I, I was living in Atlanta and probably should have been diagnosed in 2004, but yeah...

Dawnia Marie

Definitely in Atlanta and thank God for my mom. She was like, you need to go to the emergency room.

Sarah Kirwan

Yeah, thank goodness. As a black woman in America, how would you describe the care that you received from your providers? One of the things that we've really talked about are the inequities in healthcare for the black and Brown communities. I'm wondering if you feel that it took longer for you to be diagnosed because you're a woman of color. Can you talk about some of the barriers that you faced with providers and with the healthcare system during the diagnosis process?

Dawnia Marie

I guess for me, it was a little different. My father was diagnosed with primary progressive MS in 2004. When I first started feeling the symptoms or feeling Ms. They, the doctor, had me go do all this testing and all of that. And I was 24 at the time. And, after everything was over the doctor's like, nothing's wrong with you? Like, I don't see anything. I'm like, hmmm. And I said, Mike, I was like, my dad was diagnosed with Ms. He's like, Oh, that's what it is like, aha. It's like, and I'm not going to listen to you. And so my symptoms, they went away. I may have adjusted, I don't know, but I wasn't dealing with them. And then, wo years later when my body went numb from my chest down.

Sarah Kirwan

What was that like? Did you just wake up in the morning?

Dawnia Marie

It was like gradual. Like, I really felt it, in like my stomach area and like my hands and, it wasn't numb like, I'm going to collapse or anything like that, but it was just like a weird sensation throughout my body. I'm like, what is going on? And that's when my mom's like, you need to go to the emergency room. And, I went there and they're like, you need to see a neurologist, but like, so that the diagnosis part of that, like when I went to a neurologist and he had me do like these hours of MRIs and he's like, yeah, it's consistent, with MS. I think for me the, treatment after, and this is like, I just had to fight for it. Example when I was in Atlanta, it was, physical therapy. I'm like, no, but that's what I want to do. It's more so I just had to keep saying what I want.

Dawnia Marie

Even now, like, I have been blessed, I speak up. And so, people haven't been able to, take advantage or like kinda like she crazy wait, we're not doing that, but to keep asking. I've been fortunate to have a really good, support system, with my doctors and my doctor in Atlanta, she was a black woman. She's a, MS Specialist. It was, I was a little concerned about leaving her in Atlanta cause I'm like, Oh, no I’m about  to go to people that don't care. I find this amazing neurologist right now, who I, we joke because another friend of mine goes to her and she's like, I'm not messing around one day and say, I love you. I was like, I know, right. We're ending. I was like, okay, I'm not going to make it awkward. Say, I love you. Yeah, I, but I'm grateful for that. I don't want to, bash, the doctors or anything, but it's like actually have a good experience, but also speak up.

Dawnia Marie

I think that's important to advocate for yourself. Go, no, I want to do this. I want to, whatever it may be. It's been great, but even, my doctor now, she's an MS specialist and she'll, actually she won't push medication on me, it's like do you really wanna do that? So because she's looking at the, long-term effects or like, let's try something else before we just medicate the symptoms. I really appreciate that about her, I really do.

Sarah Kirwan

I would say I'm actually envious of your current care team. (laughing)

Dawnia Marie

Yeah. It probably goes to be a little crazy. Let's just listen to the net real quick. (laughing)

Sarah Kirwan

No, I think that you're an incredible advocate for yourself and for other people who are diagnosed with MS and living with MS. You do have a really good care team in place that you have fought for. I would say that it does have partially to do with your ability to articulate, advocate and say what you want. Also the location that you're in Los Angeles, you know when I moved out of Los Angeles, I really that's what I really learned, how many opportunities there are for care in Los Angeles as compared to other places. Yeah, you do, your providers are amazing. They are amazing. I know some of them, so I do love them.

Sarah Kirwan

You started to get involved later around 2014, when you moved from Atlanta back to Los Angeles, you got involved with the Ms. Society and the UCLA MS Achievement center. It's interesting for me because I feel like, and please correct me if I'm wrong.

Sarah Kirwan

We often get asked, well, when did you start getting involved? And the answer to that really is a range of times. It could be, for me, it was right away because I think if I have structure, I somehow feel I have control. For other people, it takes them longer because they're still processing the diagnosis. Yeah, I don't know, still kind of living between these two spaces and then other people who really don't embrace that MS at all, and don't get involved at all. So, what prompted you when you moved back to LA, what prompted you to start getting services or, UCLA MS Achievement center is really cool just for our listeners who don't know, it's a space where people with MS go there, you do artwork, yoga education lessons on, I think I took a class there on newly diagnosed, for newly diagnosed.

Dawnia Marie

I think it was newly diagnosed, Mhmmmm.

Sarah Kirwan

They just offer these great programs. What prompted you to get involved there? And then, I mean, that basically is what drove you into the work that you're doing now.

Dawnia Marie

Yeah. So, I'm going to back up to Atlanta because, Atlanta to get places you have to drive. So, it's not like that when you say I'm going to run up the street up, up the street could be 40 minutes away or, whatever it may be. I, I actually was seeking out the, MS Society for my dad. For some reason, it didn't really like, become a priority for me to, learn stuff on my own. But also the MS Society was very far from where I worked, like for me to go from work and go to where the society was. It could take me two hours, because of the distance and traffic. And so, it wasn't really accessible, but I, I didn't even, I didn't think to do, quite like, I, I don't remember getting anything in the mail about classes or anything like that. But, it's amazing that I even got involved with the society when I moved back here because, the only reason why I was able to start, with the, National MS Society is because I didn’t get a job, I thought I was going to get. I applied for a class at USC. They, they used to have a partnership with a USC and the Ms. Society, called optimal Living.

Sarah Kirwan

I feel like I took that too, yeah.

Dawnia Marie

Where they paired you with a, they do, yeah. Did you? They paired you with the P PT and OT student, honestly, I'm like, what the heck was the OT? I don't know what that is, but the OT was probably the most life-changing person, for me, just as far as taking a shower, like I, my fatigue would kick in, while I'm in the shower, but like I'm using bar soap and I'm thinking, and now it's time to get out. I'm like, I'm too tired to lift my leg to get out of this tub. She's like, why don't you use a liquid soap? And I was like, shut up. That is so smart. I was able to get in and out of the shower with no problem, but like this little changes like that, because of the OT. But, I took the class and the amazing thing is that the class was full.

Dawnia Marie

And, literally like a day or two before the class started, I got a phone call saying, do you want to come? So literally, and I joke about the lady cause we've become friends. I was like, so if I would've had an attitude with you when the class was full, you wouldn't have called me to say, Hey, there's an available class. So that could have gone like crazy. Like I sent you. It's like, no, don't do it. You know, just wait. By me taking that class, that led to me volunteering with this society and learning about the Marilyn Hilton MS Achievement center. So, that's how I got a part of that. Just with the society, I am like, I wasn't diagnosed with MS because God was bored and he’s like, let me give her something.

Sarah Kirwan

I love that line. Right? Let me give her something.

Dawnia Marie

Yeah. She may have a little extra stress in a right, like, Hey, come on. Right. I see you in living life freely and not worrying about where to step and you can just get in and out of this. I hear you go, but I'm so grateful. I, I actually called it a privilege, the other day to be diagnosed with Ms. Cause I'm able to help other people and just have an understanding.

Dawnia Marie

And, just really quick back to the doctors, when I first came, I had to go to County hospitals, because they didn't have insurance and just seeing how people were treated in County and like, just don't know better. I'm like, man, I just, I could stay here all day. It's like, no, you can say this. Or you can do that. Or, you need to ask about that, like whatever. But, that is like the County hospitals are near and dear to my heart, because it's like, people need help and don’t understand. And, that isn’t going back to where we were, but…

Sarah Kirwan

No no, you're fine. I just wanted to mention, I worked in, County hospital in LA and the level of care and just the provider knowledge is outstanding. There are amazing providers within the LA County department of health services. The the problem again goes back to kind of the structure within which they have to work. Right. It's like the wait times. There's not enough time for education. I mean, anyway, so yes, I, they, the County hospital system also holds a very dear place in my heart. Anyway, off that tangent, we'll go back to, Marilyn Hilton MS Achievement Center.

Dawnia Marie

Which was amazing. I, it's funny. When I first started going, they do things for, to help with cognition and one of them is word scrambles. When I first started going, I was like, what language is this? This is not a word telling me to unscramble. Like, it's crazy. And so, I would just look at it and I'd get like two or three of my Oh, okay, coyote, got it. As time went on it helped me, like, I can unscramble the words now I can just glance at it really quick. I'm like, Oh yeah, that's institution, or whatever it may be. You don't realize, and I was just telling

Sarah Kirwan

Is that part of MS?

Dawnia Marie

Mmm Hmmm, but also I mean getting older. I mean, just getting older too, like you want to, that's why I just, said to the Ms. Youngsters, I'm like, you guys I'm like, do puzzles, do play games.

Dawnia Marie

I'd like to, I play games on my phone. Whether it's a word game, a math game, a puzzle, anything that causes my brain to use different areas. I do that, just to help, just to help, so that I'm not dealing with brain fog like that. So yeah. But, games are important and it's like, yeah, you think it's not, but it is. It really is.

Sarah Kirwan

Would it be different? Like if I'm sitting in working all day, right. Like doing emails or doing work, is that different than if I would sit down and do a crossword puzzle or unscramble letters is that's probably more challenging to my brain. Right?

Dawnia Marie

Yeah. I mean, but it depends on your work. Like if you're responding to emails that you just go, yes, no, yes, no. Then yeah. I mean, but answering emails can be complicated too, because sometimes you have to come up with a solution, think about it and all of that. So,

Sarah Kirwan

So, really, really the point is to challenge your brain.

Dawnia Marie

Yep. The point is to challenge your brain and don't feel like, well, I'm not playing a stupid game. I'm not doing this puzzle. Why am I, whatever, it's like, no, do it, and even like a friend of mine bought a puzzle for me, for Christmas and, it's called, it's calm. It's like, a bunch of flowers and it's a great puzzle, but it's like, I didn’t realize that putting a puzzle together would be so difficult now, and just even with your hands using your hands and all of that. And so I'm grateful for that. Always open, to do things and whether it's painting, coloring, get your creative side going. So, yeah. But it’s…it’s fun.

Sarah Kirwan

I tried knitting, I tried knitting. It was didn't go well.

Dawnia Marie

It's okay. It's okay. We can do it. We can get a little peg board. We can try knitting or crochet. We could do something. I think maybe once a month we could have our arts and crafts.

Sarah Kirwan

Oooh, yeah. We should do that. I love that.

Dawnia Marie

Yeah, just don’t ask me to be in a book club.

Sarah Kirwan

Okay. You, so after the Marilyn Hilton MS Achievement Center, you kind of dove into like all of this incredible advocacy work that spans like seven years, and you've done videos for the Ms. Society. You've done, a lot of different work for them, which I shared also in your bio at the beginning. What you said in your bio is that you say the most important thing you've done is become a self-help group facilitator. And that's really where your passion is. Can you tell us about how you got started and why you feel this is the most important and impactful area of your work?

Dawnia Marie

Yeah. And just really quick, with the MS Society, I, I started actually volunteering, with them first and doing like reading when they had scholarships, reading those applications and stuff like that. It took months to apply for me to apply with, Marilyn Hilton MS Achievement Center.

Sarah Kirwan

Oh, okay. So it was the opposite.

Dawnia Marie

Yeah. It kind of simultaneously, it was at the same time, it's like class. Okay. You can go to the office, but you still have to apply to that. Been, at Maryland Hilton, for a long time, which I love so much, but the self-help group. Yeah.

Sarah Kirwan

This is where our lives intersected all those years ago in March of 2013.

Dawnia Marie

Yeah. I, the funny thing as a friend of mine told me about why PG and who was like, wow, there's a support group for people my age. And yeah. I would go and I would forget. I remember at its once a month, second Saturday, 10 to 12 and 1150, I'm like, Aw, I didn't go. Or anything like that. I just kept forgetting. And I'm like, man. I like went a couple of times and then it'd be forever. I probably like, it took months for me to come consistently, but it was like the best thing. Just learning this different little tricks and things I qualify for and being able to hang out, got new friends, and it's like, Sarah, can't get rid of me, Beth. Can't get rid of me and I'm going to call. And that's what I do. Now I know to call on purpose just to say, I just wanted to say, yeah, it's just funny to me.

Sarah Kirwan

Oh my gosh…you’re lucky I pick up the phone. (laughing)

Dawnia Marie

But yeah. Yeah. It's okay. You better that you better.

Sarah Kirwan

For our listeners who don’t know, could you talk about what YPG is?

Dawnia Marie

Yes. So, young professionals group, is what I was…

Sarah Kirwan

Hold on. I want to put a caveat on that. Yes, it is named young professionals group, but we really pushed hard against that because I just want our listeners to know that not every young person who is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis is able to work and be a professional in the capitalistic definition of productivity.

Dawnia Marie

Yeah. Now it's called youthful peers group.

Sarah Kirwan

Youthful Peers Group. I love that! Okay, go ahead. Sorry.

Dawnia Marie

Yeah. You guys help come with that name? Cause I was like, I can't be coming in here doing this, but you want to back all the way up. I was coming and at the same time, the two of you had to go and do some amazing things. And I was like, Oh crap. To be asked, to keep it going, it was like, huge honor. Like whenever you guys would come and I'm like, Oh wait, this is who started it and all of that, but I love the self-help groups. I think it's extremely important to have that community to know that you're not crazy, and your symptoms, it's like, no, that actually is Ms. It's okay. Or you should call this person or your doctor sucks. You need to ask for an MRI and, just to be there for people. It helps them understand MS and how to advocate for themselves and then programs available for them.

Dawnia Marie

And, yeah, it just it's wonderful. And.

Sarah Kirwan

So, YPG was started in March of 2013 and my friend Beth, and I actually started it and it's for people in their twenties, thirties, and forties who have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The reason that we started it is because I can't speak for everyone, but there are a majority of stories that we hear about self-help groups. When people who are newly diagnosed go to a self-help group, they have very poor experiences. They're intimidated by durable medical equipment like wheelchairs, walkers, canes. That's intimidating. When you walk into a new space when you are freshly diagnosed, right? I mean, it's just uncomfortable. Also. You have to look at the timelines of when people are diagnosed. 30 years ago, we didn't have the options for medication that we have now. The progression of the disease is also different between kind of these different generations. I guess you could say, we wanted to look at the experiences of young people, twenties, thirties, and forties, dating marriage, pregnancy doctors, and really what we built.

Sarah Kirwan

I'm reading this book right now, it's called care work. They call it collective web. I feel like that's what we built with YPG because it is this self-help group. It also is this community of young people that I know at any time, regardless of if someone hasn't been to group in a while that if I need something or if I need help, anyone will step up to the plate for me, anyone in that group. I think it's important to recognize that people have fear of self-help groups, but also I love how you're talking about the positivity of the self-help group, like what we get out of it.

Dawnia Marie

Right. Yeah. I totally agree. And it's, funny. I I'm like, what is it best making you not want to come because we're on zoom now. Like you could come on, let's say you don't have to get on the camera and you can mute your phone and just listen, ? Cause it's important. I think if the trick should not come in the group, because it's like, you feel so much better once you're done or, when you leave or just coming on, it's like, wow. Especially when you're not surrounded by people diagnosed with MS because now you have somebody that understands, and when you say I'm tired, the person doesn't go me too. It's like, no, you don't know what my tired is, type of thing. Now when we say we're tired and group, they're like, yeah, like you understand. If this is fun, having that understanding, yeah, I totally agree.

Sarah Kirwan

I love self-help group. I do. I think it's such a great space for conversations and shared experiences and just building kind of this network of support for yourself and for others. Right? So you really, when Beth and I, so Beth and I ran that for about four years or for about four years. Then, we both had changes in our lives in 2017 and you came on board as amazing, thank you. Amazing changes. You came on board to facilitate, and that was for Beth and I, for a self-help group when you lead it for that long and you facilitate it and you're so invested, it's hard to walk away from it as the facilitator because you're fearful that what if it doesn't last? What if these people don't continue to get the support that they need and you stepped up in such a big way to facilitate that and keep it going.

Sarah Kirwan

Not only did you step up, then you basically like built it out and then you started a teen group you've been running, facilitating the YPG group now for gosh 17. So five years almost. Tell us about this teen group. Yup. 2017.

Dawnia Marie

Wow. Yeah. I'm not good at math. Sometimes I'm like fingers, fingers, fingers. It's so funny because, as soon as I started, I think I took over officially in July and in that first group, there was a teenager in there and he was not a mature teenager. He was like the annoying little brother teenager. I told his mom, I was like, I feel like we're corrupting your son by him being in his group because we're talking about adult issues and he's a freshman in high school, like wanting to know like, what'd you get on your test or, anything like that. That's what made me start, the youth group, the, at the time it was cost 17 and under, and it was just me and the young man for about a year. And, I'm like one day there's going to be another youth or, there's going to be another younger person is going to be great, blah.

Dawnia Marie

Finally we had somebody else come and I was like, we'd have a new Barbies in and all of that. Then, it, again, it went maybe a year. It took a while for, someone else to come. I just, part of the problem with P pediatric MS, is that they don't want to talk about it. There's that embarrassment, not taking, not even wanting to accept it's like, I'm invincible. I don't meet this, but, fast forward, the group has grown so much. Like we had, I think right now there's like heavens Chine of 15 something. I know I have to look and it's become an international group. Because of COVID and as being in, I can't even blame it a hundred percent on COVID because, we, the, maybe the fourth person that joined was in Arizona and what's very common is that the parents reach out to me and then they just wait for the younger person to go, okay, I'm ready now.

Dawnia Marie

When they come, they're like, Ooh, like, I'm so glad I did. But, they are my babies. They call me their Ms. Mama and I'm okay. I would do turn into mama bear when they're not being treated right. Or, anything like that, but it is, the groups are, like extremely important to me because I want them to live life and not feel like they have to give up certain dreams and stuff like that because of a diagnosis. Actually the reason I didn't join a group was because I wasn't old and trying to retire. I didn't, I'm single with no kids. I'm not trying to be in a group of people that are retiring and what was me. That was similar, for the young man, he's, high school or now you're in this group with older people. I'm like, I know how it feels, let's fix this.

Dawnia Marie

But yeah, they are amazing. Amazing. Yeah, I don't want to start talking about them cause we'll be here for three hours.

Sarah Kirwan

We will be an actually you have a new group member from Sweden.

Dawnia Marie

Yeah. I actually, she's going to be meeting the group room for the first time today. I'm like super excited about it, but I just,

Sarah Kirwan

I hear it in your voice.

Dawnia Marie

I love it. Yeah. I'm just like, Hey guys, come on. Like, we've been doing, the M Ms. Youngster has an Instagram page. We've been doing lives, throughout the week. Like I have no idea who's going to pop up on the screen, like I have today. Who out interview? I don't know, but it's fun. Ben have been able to encourage people that have been following the Ms. Youngsters page, but not really, stepping out there to say, Hey, like I want to know about the group. We just been trying to encourage people like reach out, it's okay. And, also realize how blessed we are and the us that we have, certain things as far as like the internet and, being able to talk freely and not being judged.

Dawnia Marie

Just from, looking at what's happening around the, so I don't, I no longer take, logging on the internet and just, clicking wherever I wants to for granted. Cause it doesn't have to be that way. Right. That's so true. But yeah, those are my babies though.

Sarah Kirwan

You are celebrating 15 years of being diagnosed. Congratulations.

Dawnia Marie

Every, every may I celebrate, which I love and absolutely, you've come to my celebration.

Sarah Kirwan

I have, and I never celebrated my Ms. Diagnosis year until I met you now, since then, since we've been friends, I celebrated every year, my friend every year.

Dawnia Marie

Awesome. I don't feel like I've been invited.

Sarah Kirwan

Well, it's not a party. It's like, I just celebrate it by myself. (laughing)

Dawnia Marie

We have to fix that. You better call me. I don't know. We'll figure out something.

Sarah Kirwan

Okay. This takes us to the huge party that you're throwing in. May I am. I want to talk about that because you are being honored. You have, I want to make sure I get this right. In 2021, or excuse me, in 2020, you received the inspirational person of the year award for the Southern California Nevada chapter of the Ms. Society. You also received the 2020 love ladies operating very effectively and the 2020 volunteer inspiration award. Now you're going to have this huge party in May. I want you to tell our listeners all about it because it's incredible.

Dawnia Marie

First of all, I was shocked when they told me at the beginning of this year that I received that for 2020. Cause the Southern California one was last year, in January I got that. A year later this and I was like, Oh man, like we have to do our own celebrations because of COVID, ? And so there, like, Oh, do like a little something. In December my sister in law, she's amazing. She was working with an organization that had a virtual event and I was like, Oh my gosh, this is so neat. Cause you like, you create an avatar and you can literally walk around and do everything on your own. It was like, gosh, she feels so good to feel normal again, with my walking, like not worried about losing that balance, you can even dance, there. And so, yeah. I found out about receiving the I'm like, okay, I was like, what can I do? And I've thought about that.

Dawnia Marie

I was like, okay, let me look at the date. I was like, okay, can't do February that's too soon, March. No, April the walk. I was like, may I was like, I can do man. I'm like, let me look at the weekends in May. I'm like can do the first weekend. That's one of my best friend's birthdays. Can't do the second and the fourth weekend because that is the adult group and Ms. Youngsters. I got to the third weekend, it was open and it's the 15th of May and that's also 15 years that I've been diagnosed and I'm like, Oh, this is perfect. And so on May 15th

Sarah Kirwan

Serendipitous.

Dawnia Marie

Right. Right. So, May 15th, we are going to have a virtual event and it is going to be from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM Pacific standard time. There's going to be an expo where you can meet different, go to different vendors.

Dawnia Marie

All of that, like you're walking around a convention center and then there'll be a panel of doctors. A quick little awards ceremony cause it's myself and another gentleman, his name is John strum. We live close to each other and we both received the award. Were like over 170 people that, were nominated and they picked the 11, Oh my gosh. Yeah. So were two of 11. And so we'll do that. But then there's the house of grooves. It's going to be a concert, just trying to get different artists. There's going to be a comedian and I am so excited about it. After the dancing and everything, we're going to go to the beach and have a firework show and just be able to talk to people and like, literally it is like your avatar walks around, you can walk up to people and talk, you can have private conversations, you can do all types of stuff.

Dawnia Marie

I, yeah. I, when I tell you I am excited and what I wanna do is I don't want to have a set price because everybody's financial situation is different. Like I'm on disability. I know there have been a gazillion events that I could not afford, because of my income and then the pandemics going on. People are losing their jobs, not being able to afford housing or pay their bills. That's like pay what you can afford if you can't pay anything. Like if you can't afford, just to let me know. Like when I tell you I'm so hype about this event, cause I'm like, I'm giving people a few hours to just feel and I put normal in quotes, but you under, if you're dealing with, any type of disability or sickness or whatever, you understand what I'm saying, when I say feel normal, I just think is going to be great where it's like your avatar, like can dance, like it's do the running man do swing, do hip hop robot, but it's just, it's fun to be able to dance and there will be performances.

Dawnia Marie

It is all said and done, you will feel like you just had a night out on the town and you could be watching in your pajamas. You could, all you need is a computer, laptop, desktop. Cause there are certain function keys that you'll need, to like, if you want to shake somebody's hand clap. If whatever you want to do, you just use the keys on your keyboard, but nobody will ever see you. Yeah, I'm just, I'm excited about it. That's May 15th, anybody that's interested cause we're still like developing the site and everything. You can just reach out to me on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. My name is consistent. It's Dawnia Marie. That is D as in David, a, w, N as in Nancy, and then Marie. And yeah, I’m excited about it. Hopefully, everything will be up within, by April, and get registered and all that fun stuff.

Dawnia Marie

But it's such a great event. It really is.

Sarah Kirwan

I can't wait. I'm so excited me.

Dawnia Marie

Either. I'm just, I'm like looking at the different artists. I'm like, okay, like, wait, we have to do this, but the comedian, I love him. He's great. He's actually a friend of mine, but he's been like on television and doing different things. So he's super funny, but yeah. I just want people to have fun, not like, it was all right. Like I wanna have fun, fun.

Sarah Kirwan

We need some fun, fun.

Dawnia Marie

Yes, yes.

Sarah Kirwan

Before we go, how can our listeners become MS Allies?

Dawnia Marie

My biggest thing is always find the bright side of every situation and also to keep living. Don't feel like you cannot accomplish the things that you had planned before. Just find a different way to do it. I, I am very big on find the bright side of the situation and it's like, okay, I'm diagnosed with MS or diagnosed with whatever. What can I do different now? What, why am I diagnosed with this? And I, I don't know. I just, I just, my biggest thing is keep living. Don't give up on life, be uncomfortable with stepping out of your comfort zone, and do it like this, do it regardless of how you feel. Yeah. For someone say, do it afraid. It's like, yeah, like, go ahead and do that because, it's so much better. Like, yeah. I think the results will shock the crap out of you.

Dawnia Marie

Like, man, I thought it was going to be this. And it's like, no, it's not. So yeah. Just keep living. That is, you know what I say?

Sarah Kirwan

How can our listeners who don't have disabilities or don't have Ms. How can they support people with MS or become, allies of people with MS?

Dawnia Marie

Yeah. Well, one thing they could do, if you want to volunteer with the society, but if you see someone, just ask, don't assume anything, don't compare them to someone else because MS is different for everybody. But come treat. When you meet someone, diagnosed with Ms. Treat them like you don't know anything about it and let them talk to you and you not talk at them. That is what I say to do.

Sarah Kirwan

I like that. I appreciate that. Thank you so much for being on today. Dani, I'm so grateful for you of course. Oh, of course. So grateful for you. And I can't wait for the event. I'm so looking forward to it,

Dawnia Marie

Me either, and I really need to get working on it seriously, but thank you so much. I love what you're doing and hope everyone takes advantage of the info they're learning.

Sarah Kirwan

And once again to our listeners – thank you for spending your time with us and joining the Incluse This! conversation and movement. Incluse This! is brought to you by Eye Level Communications, LLC, a California-based woman- and disability-owned small business committed to having critical conversations – at eye level – that are necessary to move disability to the forefront of the greater diversity conversation. If you’d like to learn more about the work we’re doing, please visit the website at: www.eyelevel.works You can also email me directly at sarah@eyelevel.works with podcast episode ideas, as well as comments and questions.

Sarah Kirwan

Remember to put your disability lens on when you look at the world, and tune-in next week for another stimulating conversation on Incluse This! – the podcast that’s really a movement. Take care and be well.

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