Student Life

Aiesha Robinson was born to rise

How a skin disorder inspired one Montrealer to spread a message of self-love

When Aiesha Robinson was first diagnosed with vitiligo at 18 years old, her life took a turn for the worst. But what the now 27-year-old Montrealer thought would ruin her life forever has actually given her life more purpose.

Robinson’s lifelong dream was to play basketball professionally. “The plan was to go play basketball, and to hopefully go play in the NBA, overseas, somewhere,” she said.

The dream fell through for her when she was cut from the AAA basketball team at Dawson College. After that, her grades took a serious hit. “I just didn’t care,” she said. “I went into social sciences and school was irrelevant. I didn’t concentrate on that at all.”

Then, one day at school, she saw it for the first time. “I believe that’s when the stress started, and that’s when I noticed a small white spot on my right thumb,” she said. “I had no idea what it was.”

According to Robinson, vitiligo can be triggered by stress. And having seen friends and family members with the disorder, Robinson began to suspect what it was. However, she was also in denial and kept hoping the spot was just a scab that would eventually go away. After three weeks of keeping it a secret, she finally showed the spot to a friend.

“That’s when she told me to come with her to the bathroom. She looked at me, and she said, ‘Aiesha, you have vitiligo.’ Right then and there, she confirmed my worst nightmares,” Robinson said.

In addition to working on Born to Rise, Robinson is a public speaker and a model with Kill Management. Photo by Nastia Cloutier-Ignatiev

Robinson described the first six years of living with vitiligo as the roughest of her life. She had to watch white spots appear all over her body, and she didn’t know how to deal with it. “I mean I’m 18, I’m going to clubs, I’m starting a whole new life, meeting new people, and at the same time I’m being judged or looked upon differently because of the way that I look,” she said.

She said she would often hide in her room, not wanting to go outside and be stared at and judged.

“At this point, I became depressive. I contemplated suicide because, you know, at a certain point you can only handle so much. I’m a human being. And it wasn’t that I wanted to commit suicide because I wanted to not be here anymore—I just didn’t want to feel the pain, and I thought that was the only solution,” she said.

She said she is thankful for her older brother, Jaimie, who helped her in her lowest moments.

“He told me that I have to look at the positive side of things, and that if I was given this condition, then it was for a reason,” she said.

Jaimie asked her how she could make a difference, not only for herself, but for others. That’s when it dawned on Robinson—if she was feeling this way, then others probably were, too.

“That’s when, [in 2014], I decided to come up with my non-profit titled Born to Rise,” she said. “I get people to come out and share their stories on overcoming their own adversities in the hopes that it will inspire somebody going through a similar situation, and just send out the message that they’re not alone.”

For the last three years, Robinson has held an annual event also called Born to Rise, where she invites speakers to come share the story of their personal struggles to inspire others. The show also includes dancing, singing and spoken word performances.

“It’s an evening of inspiration,” said the young activist.

Robinson is also a public speaker, and often visits elementary schools to educate young children about vitiligo.

In addition to her other projects, Robinson works as a model with Kill Management, a Montreal-based agency. She said she wants people to know that no matter how different you are from a “typical model,” you can still make it in the industry.

“I just want to be a representative for all my fellow vitiligo-ins, and just anybody out there who thinks they can’t do it—I want to be living proof,” she said.

Robinson said she is very proud of how far she has come since she was first diagnosed with vitiligo. “Aiesha eight years ago until about four years ago was somebody who was insecure, not confident, who was sad … but I always put up a front,” she said. “Aiesha today is genuinely happy—I look forward to the future. Before, I didn’t because I didn’t know where I was going with my life.”

Now, she said vitiligo is her purpose, and she is not afraid to put herself out there anymore. “I know where I’m going, where I want to go—I have a vision now. Before I didn’t,” she said. These goals include continuing to educate people about what vitiligo is, and inspiring others to overcome the obstacles in their own lives. “I’m just happy, I’m just so self-loving and I think that’s the greatest gift of all: to be able to be happy in my own skin.”

This year’s Born to Rise event will be held at Westmount High School on Saturday, April 22 at 7 p.m. Tickets for the Born to Rise show are $20 for general admission, and $10 for students. Doors open at 6 p.m.

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