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Inspiration on the National Mall

By Julie Lefelar

Tanisha Willis is a determined woman. She also has Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO) and Lupus. Don’t be fooled by the notion that she has two debilitating autoimmune disorders; she inspires us all. When she came to me and Cynthia Albright to organize a walk on the National Mall in Washington D.C., we both were a little hesitant. We were worried that we would not be able to pull it off. Little did we know that Tanisha knew better. It was a fabulous idea.

This past September, with the help of TMA, now SRNA, we got up very early in the morning and traveled to the beautiful and historic Constitution Gardens, surrounded by so many of our nation’s coveted landmarks. It was the perfect place to gather with our peers in this journey with rare neuroimmune disorders. We were blessed with a sunny, perfectly temperate day, a tranquil pond full of ducks and geese cutting through the glass-like water, dipping their bills rhythmically almost in unison, and the majestic Washington Monument rising above the trees to remind us that we were, in fact, in one of the most photographed areas in the U.S.  There was a wonderful turnout of people of all ages, some with their furry friends in tow, ready to use their voices and let everyone know that they stand up against the unwelcome visitor who has invaded their lives. With everyone happy and thankful for the medical professionals who help them live as normally as they can, the energy was remarkable.

Our morning started with some words of inspiration by Tanisha, then transitioned to Jeremy Bennett from SRNA who always provides us with the latest SRNA news and lets us know that what we do as volunteers is of immense importance. Our special guest speaker and favorite rock-star doctor, Dr. Michael Levy, who came all the way from Boston, gave a fantastic speech that let us know that the medical community is fighting very hard on our behalf. Then our musical guests, the Dream Team, gave the whole event a reggae vibe as we started our walk. Naturally, in her usual form, Tanisha recorded the walk on her phone as she experienced it live, streaming online for all to see with commentary that was equally fun. We had the promise of a big basket of cookies as motivation to show the best spirit and our guests did not disappoint. We had so much fun passing out door prizes as well and everyone, regardless of whether they won a prize, left much richer with new connections and friends, some from as far as Canada!

We can’t thank our sponsors enough: The MOG Project who sponsored our walk by holding a huge t-shirt drive, Tanisha’s church, The Miracle Center of Faith, Missionary Baptist Church, who reached deeply into their pockets to make sure this event was a huge success, as well as Merle Norman of Olney, Maryland for the fantastic door prizes. We had such great volunteers as well, and we thank the families and friends of the organizers, as well as those from SRNA who have supported us consistently. We walked away thinking that we can’t wait to do it again. It was indeed a good day.