The Diabetics on the Margin Event in NYC
If you’ve ever looked at the diabetes space and thought, There isn’t anybody who looks like me here!, the Diabetics on the Margin event, presented by Beyond Type 1 in partnership with Ariel Lawrence, was a major milestone geared toward changing that.
On the wall hung a pennant with bold lettering: TAKE UP SPACE. It was the perfect caption for the bubbling energy in the room as it filled up with old friends, new acquaintances, diabetes professionals and members of the community who were just starting to discover how they can make a difference. Ariel was inspired to create an event that focused on diversity and inclusion after she started her blog and Instagram account, Just a little Suga.’
“One of my intentions has always been to highlight other people of color who are doing awesome things,” she told guests as she explained where the event’s name came from. Earlier this year, Ariel held a photo shoot with other women who live with type 1 called Diabetics on the Margin, in order to call attention to people who are “not often seen in our society.”
“I kind of went on a search looking for people who look like me on Instagram,” said Patrick Norris, who has lived with type 1 for over 15 years. “It’s easy to feel isolated.”
Patrick ended up connecting with Ariel through her platform, which led him to travel into NYC from his home in Connecticut to see what Saturday was all about.
“I’m very inspired by Ariel’s ability to bring people together, and I never really imagined seeing a scene like this, where all kinds of people of color came together for type 1 diabetes. Oftentimes type 1 diabetes is not represented in this way, in my experience.”
Ariel said she hoped the event would get people thinking and talking about how people of color who are living with type 1 can take up more space in the world and in advocacy.
The sold-out morning (which included an expert-packed panel discussion, which streamed live on Facebook) was held on a sunny fall Saturday in Manhattan at the Homepolish headquarters near Madison Square Park.
12-year-old, Maya, and her mom, Daphne, enjoyed a brunch spread and sugar-free refreshments while meeting members of the type 1 community. Why did they decide to attend? Daphne said she noticed that the diversity was lacking when her daughter attended the JDRF Children’s Congress last year, so she hoped that in attending their first Beyond Type 1 event, the two of them would explore constructive ways to create a more inclusive diabetes community and meet role models who are active in creating change.
And the panelists, moderated by Grace Bonney, brought it! Grace has had type 1 for four years and she founded Design Sponge and wrote In The Company of Women and Design*Sponge at Home. She led Ariel, Dr. Maria E. Peña, Vivian Nabeta, Ali Abdulkareem, Courtney Taylor and Chase DuPont in an hour-long discussion that covered topics ranging from being a single parent of a child with type 1, to relationships between healthcare professionals and people with diabetes (PWDs), to pushing back and handling cultural differences while staying on top of diabetes self-management.
As topics changed from educational to psychosocial aspects of life with type 1, the emotional gauge of the room also reached all ends of the spectrum. At one point, panelist and superstar diabetes mom Courtney Taylor created a visual for her son, Chase (the youngest member of the panel!) that resembled his elementary school classroom. Courtney asked everyone in the room to raise their hand if they had type 1 diabetes. As Chase looked around with a grin, his mom asked him how he would feel if his classroom looked like this (“Excited!” he replied.)
“I also looked around in that moment, and looked at everyone in the space that have type 1 diabetes that proudly raised their hands. Normally we’re invisible, right?” said Aisha Becker-Burrowes, who has also had type 1 for 15 years. “The added layer for [Chase] and what that would have meant for me at his age: not only seeing all of these people with diabetes in the room, but also all these diabetics of color in the room, was really important.”
Everyone laughed when someone’s continuous glucose monitor (CGM) alarm went off during the panel—that’s when it was clear that this was a group of people familiar with type 1, as everyone looked to see if it was their alarm. Ariel pointed it out while she was responding to a question, and it was a moment for everyone to be proud of their decision to be involved in the community by coming together and making this event a success.
Saturday’s sponsors included Companion Medical, Dexcom, Insulet, Medtronic, Myabetic, MySugr, Roche Diabetes Care,and Tandem Diabetes Care. Guests left carrying totes that were filled with Myabetic bags and other goodies.
Cherise Shockley, who works in social media marketing for Roche Diabetes, spoke with other guests about why she traveled from Indianapolis to NYC to participate as an audience member.
“We thought it was important not only to sponsor the event, but to make sure we were there to support the event.”
Other industry members had a presence on Saturday: Danielle Campbell and Keivon Jones of Fitscript were invited by Ariel to attend, and both had takeaways that they plan to bring back to their company, which created the Glucosezone fitness app.
“Our job is to help people with diabetes, so we have to be inclusive and make sure everyone is included in the conversation,” Keivon said, “Not just the norm and what is currently being shown [on social media, etc.].”
One of Ariel’s goals for the Diabetics on the Margin campaign is to show people who might be hesitant to join the diabetes online community (DOC) that their stories have value. She told the audience that she wants to empower others to do what she is doing and get them to enrich the community.
Sarah Lucas, CEO of Beyond Type 1, hopes Saturday’s event is the first of many conversations. “Beyond Type 1 wants to amplify and be a voice for people of color,” she said as the panel wrapped up.
The positive energy throughout the room as guests said their goodbyes was a testament to Ariel’s hard work; and her boyfriend and event photographer, Alfred Sarpeh of Royal Light Photography, gave his own thanks (with a big surprise!).
“Ariel has been doing a really great job in the diabetes world, and this was her biggest event and she put in so much time and so much effort, and as she gives everybody a gift, I want to award her with a ring!”
What a fitting end to an exciting day of celebration and inspiration.