Black women are changing the narrative of Lupus

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One tear fell from her eye after the unthinkable became a deafening reality for metro Detroit resident Sharron Harris after receiving a biopsy result over 10 years ago.  

Harris, 43, was tested for the autoimmune disorder lupus and within just one month of her college graduation in 2011 from Florida A&M University, her whole world changed after the official diagnosis.  

“It looked like I had vitiligo and … I went to the dermatologist and when she was looking at me, she said, ‘You have lupus.’ I never heard of that in my entire life.” 

Harris quickly learned what that meant, and the bubbly broadcast journalism graduate faced a long road paved with gastrointestinal problems, like Chron’s disease, fatigue and more, which led her to be off work.  

About 1.5 million Americans have some form of lupus with about 90 percent of those diagnoses belonging to women, according to   

More statistics reveal that as many as one in 250 African American women like Harris will develop the autoimmune disorder in their lifetime.   

The somewhat misunderstood disorder attacks the body’s immune system and can put healthy cells and tissues at risk.   

This disorder can affect many body parts, including the joints, skin, kidneys, heart, blood vessels, lungs and brain. Lupus patients can experience periods of wellness (remissions) and periods of active disease or flares, according to  

What causes lupus is unknown, though some scientists believe that it is genetic, or is triggered by certain medications, infection or stress. While there is no cure for lupus, certain medications can help ease symptoms along with some healthy practices.  

Individuals living with lupus should:  

  • Protect themselves from the sun, especially between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.   
  • Eat a well-balanced diet. 
  • Exercise regularly . 
  • Get plenty of rest.  
  • Reach out to your support system.  

While people of all races and ethnic groups can develop lupus and it is three times more common in African American women than in Caucasian women. It is also more common, occurs at a younger age and is more severe in African Americans.   

“It is not known why lupus is more common in African Americans,” according to “Some scientists think that it is related to genes, but we know that hormones and environmental factors play a role in who develops lupus. There is a lot of research being done in this area, so contact the LFA for the most up-to-date research information, or to volunteer for some of these important research studies.”  

“What keeps me going is because we need more resources,” Harris said, adding that fatigue, kidney problems and other issues arise. “[It] can affect any organ in the body.… Your joints hurt…and it is hard for you to sleep.”  

Harris, the executive director of Lupus Detroit (the only nonprofit that caters to Lupus Warriors in the city) said that Lupus Detroit raises money for Lupus “warriors” who need assistance with medication, rent and the like. It also awards educational grants.   

Harris began the organization to help others who have faced similar issues.  

“I was like, ‘I can do this myself,’” she said, adding that it was “scary” to start the organization but once she did it began to take shape. “Lupus Detroit has a big community and I’m very proud…. We’re a six-figure organization because the people believe in our mission.”  

Harris said that medical intervention is key when combatting lupus because the disease can sometimes mimic other diseases and continued care is critical.  

“Many lupus warriors have problems with their lungs, or have neuropathy,” Harris said of the chronic invisible illness.  

Others in Michigan are interested in helping lupus warriors, too.  

The University of Michigan Lupus Program provides care to patients with lupus. Its center is designed to provide expert care for a patient with lupus, with access to the latest treatments and clinical trials.  

UM’s team of rheumatologists, nephrologists, pulmonologists, hematologists, dermatologists and high-risk obstetricians and gynecologists, all with a special interest in lupus, provide comprehensive care for all lupus patients.  

Patients can schedule an appointment by calling 888-229-3065 or visiting for more information.   

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