SUMTER, S.C. — Sumter County Council has declared June Vitiligo Awareness Month, and Sumter residents are trying to educate the community about the skin condition.
"He wrote it out on a piece of paper 'vitiligo," Tiffany Williams remembers her doctor doing. "And I had no clue of what that was, the word, nothing."
Thirteen years ago, Williams’ doctor told her the white spot on her hand was vitiligo. She went home to Google what that meant, and found out it was a condition that causes the skin to lose pigmentation.
"Whenever you get diagnosed, you feel like you are by yourself. You feel alone," Williams shares. "And I know there there's other people that exists, but that you feel like you're in that bubble by yourself and having that support system is like none other because you can talk with and you can relate to that person 'cuz they're going through the same thing you're going through."
It’s why she created the Sumter Vitiligo Support Group, for people like John Day, who was diagnosed 11 years ago. At first, he tried to stop it.
"I found out that the treatment was worse than vitiligo because vitiligo didn't cause any problems, no pains, no itching, no nothing," Day explains. "But the treatment caused a lot of problems."
So, he embraced the condition. Now, he’s working with other support group members to help others — like 10-year-old Gabriella Calvin — embrace their changing skin. To help with that, the group donated a handful of children’s books about vitiligo to the three Sumter library branches.
"To be able to talk about it, and let the other kids know that this has nothing to hurt them. It's not a disease," Louise Moore explains. "You can't get it from me, so you can be my friend."
Moore works at the Wesmark library branch, and says having representation matters.
"Me being an assistant at the library, it makes me feel good," Moore shares. "Because I know now there's something there that connects to me that we can connect to the public."
Support group members helping educate their community while supporting each other through unique journeys.
Williams says her family was supportive, "but they didn't know how I felt when I walked in some place and people gave me the stares. You know, they didn't know how it felt when you know people, you know did the double takes, but that support member they know. They know exactly what we know what each of us go through."
Williams says the goal is eventually to spread outside Sumter, hoping to get children's books in libraries across the state to further raise awareness and increase representation.
The group supports members at all different points in their journey. Member Deloris Caesar was diagnosed 11 years ago. She chooses to wear makeup on her face to hide the discoloration.
"I wear my makeup 'cuz I'm not comfortable with it yet, so I still put my makeup on every morning," Caesar shares. "Hopefully soon I’ll get out 'cuz this is who I am and who I'm gonna be. So I said when you get this age you go like it is, go with the flow."
Caesar tells me support from the other members is what encourages her. She's hoping by keeping books available to the community, others will feel empowered.