Episode 35 Transcript

Published: Thursday February 22, 2024

How a Vitiligo Diagnosis Changed Aiesha Robinson’s Life

Finding Strength in Vulnerability with Aiesha


Alycia Anderson: Welcome to Pushing Forward with Alycia, a podcast that gives disability a voice. Each week we will explore topics like confidence, ambition, resilience and finding success against all odds. We are creating a collective community that believes that all things are possible for all people.

Open hearts. Clear paths. Let’s go.

Welcome back to Pushing Forward with Alycia. I’m Alycia Anderson. It’s Black History Month. It’s February. One word to describe our next guest is vibrant. She is a beautiful tapestry of woman empowerment. She is a keynote speaker. She is a fashion model. She’s an empowerment coach. She’s a self-love advocate. She has founded an organization called Born to Rise.

She’s built her platform on self, love and resiliency and grief and bullying. She was. Diagnosed with vitiligo when she was 18 and she’s got an absolutely amazing story. Aiesha Robinson!

Can you talk about the intersection of your vibrant, beautiful identity?

Aiesha Robinson: I always have trouble answering this question because I still kind of feel like I’m trickling in, finding out who I am at my core. It changes a lot throughout because of the way how I was brought up. The school that I went to in elementary, I was the only black girl in my grade and in the entire school I was the third.

So that led to self-identity issues, a little bit of self-hate, not loving the skin color I was in. Then going to high school with that lack of confidence because I wasn’t super comfortable in my skin, but it’s a school now where it’s more diverse. There’s people that look at me but are black and proud, and I did not know what that meant, how to be black and proud. So I would often be called whitewash. I wasn’t secure in who I am. So for a long time I was just really insecure in myself.

And of course, at 18, I was diagnosed with vitiligo. Which basically took me back to the days where I was bullied for being black. Now I’m being judged for being black and white. For people that don’t know vitiligo is an underlining skin condition where you’re…, you lose the pigment in your skin.

So if you know Winnie Harlow, she’s a famous fashion model. She has it herself. I have it around my eyes, underneath my nose, on my hands, elbows, and on my feet. So this started with a white small white spot. And over time, it grew to what it is today.

And, I struggled with self-love. I struggled with confidence, I struggled with mental health with suicidal ideation after an epiphany, a crucial moment that happened, I decided to say enough is enough. I need to love myself.

So who am I?

Today, I’m Aiesha. I am somebody that stands proud for people being who they are, being unique, living true to their authentic self and spreading love and kindness to all.

Alycia Anderson: I know you’re doing a lot of really important work with resiliency and self-love and specifically bullying, which I think is so important in mental health. How is that translating on the stage today?

Aiesha Robinson: So, I often love to go into the high schools and the elementary schools to teach them the lessons that I did not know when I was younger. I didn’t… We didn’t talk about self-love, what is self-love? I just recently learned that right.

So, I find it’s really important to teach the youth from a young age how important an impact that it will have if you love yourself. Because if you do, then you’re not going to worry too much about what other people think because you know who you are. You know that you’re smart. So what people are saying about you, the negativity, it’s just a reflection and a projection off of them to how they truly feel within themselves.

So, this is a message that I spread throughout elementary schools, high schools, along with bullying. How I was bullied in elementary school for being black. Remind you that I did not have vitiligo in elementary. I was just a black girl.

So, the importance of diversity and you know, not making fun of something that you don’t know and how kindness can go a long way as simple as just a smile. Smiling at someone can make someone’s day. You know, when I was insecure about having vitiligo and I’d see a stranger just smile at me and it literally made my whole day.

I’m like, Oh my gosh, this person’s not judging me! They’re seeing me for who I am. So, it’s just me reiterating the importance of the cliche comments that would make, like, treat people how you would want to be treated.

Alycia Anderson: Even in taking it’s… one step back, looking you in the eye. I think that that is so important and that is a big… that has always been a big thing for me too. If somebody just looks me in the eye and then actually gives a smile, what a… what an open door to start to understand something new.

Aiesha Robinson: Exactly. You know, I face people looking away from me or they’re giving me the stairs, but also continuing it with the whispers. And it makes you feel a type of way, right?

And then sometimes they go in front me and be like, ohh, what’s up with your skin? At that point, I don’t wanna engage with you because I know you’re judging me.

When someone’s looking me in the eye and I can see the genuine intrigue that they have to know. OK, like hey I’ve never seen someone like you. What is it that you have?

Then, I’m more willing to open up.

Alycia Anderson: It is actually pretty shocking some of the blatant things that random stranger… like what’s up with your skin?

Like!?! How is that even a way to approach a human being on top of a lot of other things that were actually quite shocking?

What is the advice?

Aiesha Robinson: Honestly, it’s… I feel like they just need to go back to being a child. And, all I can say is just kindness. That’s the first thought that comes to mind is… if this was your daughter, would you want this? Would you want someone to treat your daughter like this? You know what they means, really putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.

And say, hey, if I looked different, would I want somebody to say the comment that I just made to her?

We really need to take the time to put ourselves in somebody else’s shoe and understand the experiences that they might be going through.

Alycia Anderson: I totally 100% agree as well.

You’re listening to Pushing Forward with Alycia and we will be right back.


Alycia Anderson: Welcome back to Pushing Forward with Alycia. I’m Alycia Anderson. It’s Black History Month. Our guest is Aiesha Robinson.

We’re celebrating all kinds of accomplishments and historical events and amplifying the power in your path.

How have you become such a strong and powered black woman?

Aiesha Robinson: Oh, I easily get inspired. For example, you inspire me with your story… with you not only spreading the message and spreading awareness, but the confidence that you exude and you letting people know that, hey, it’s OK if you have a disability. It’s your superpower. So anyone that has superpower uniqueness that’s what inspires me to continue.

I don’t like to say that I have a role model because I believe that we can all be a role model in our own right.

So there’s nobody that I look at and I’m like, oh my gosh, this is the person I aspire to be, right. Especially because now when you go more… when you do more digging their values don’t always align with your values.

The work that they’re putting out does not always align with who they show up to be on the Internet.

So with that being said, I do love Trent Shelton. I feel like there’s so many commonalities in our stories in the sense of him losing his mom and speaking on grief, him reaching out to the students, his friend to suicide, me being somebody that attempted suicide. So there’s so much alignment in our story. So I often look to him in the way how he shares his message. That gives me confidence to continue sharing my message.

For Black History Month. I believe that it’s such a powerful and a great opportunity to educate others on the importance of it, but to me, Black History Month is every month because that’s who I am.

So, for me, I did not even realize this until the killing of George Floyd. I was somebody that would walk around and say, see no color. And that was because I didn’t want to be judged. I didn’t want people to see me with somebody who’s vitiligo, so I wanted people to put their shades on and not judge me for the way my skin looked.

Until I had a conversation with my friend, a very strong black woman that advocates for black woman, and I was like, you know what, you’re completely right. For me to say, see no color, I’m saying don’t see black people, don’t see people that are of an Asian descent, don’t see people with disabilities. And, that’s the most beautiful part in this world is our uniqueness, is the shade, the different shades we come in… the different ethnicities, the different cultures. So, if we were to all be color blind, then what is there to see the beauty in.

Black History Month is important for me to… well it’s a time for me to be dedicated to learn about my own culture, about my own ancestors. So… um, yeah.

Alycia Anderson: Tell me about Born to Rise Foundation.

Aiesha Robinson: So, Born to Rise is a nonprofit organization that I started back in 2015. So, this is at a time when I was finally being comfortable with my skin, and I was seeing the importance of sharing your story.

That’s when I had my first speaking engagement, and I realized the impact of me sharing my message. How? How it could change someone’s lives or someone’s point of view, or how they viewed other people.

So, I decided, you know what, I’m gonna provide a platform for other people to share their story.

Vitiligo is my story and maybe only people with vitiligo can relate, but if I give a platform for other people going through their own adversities, then I can touch the masses because there’s going to be one story that resonates with someone.

So right now, it is a Montreal based show that we have. It’s raw speakers, so they’re not people that are trained to speak. It’s literally… it could be your next door neighbor that are coming out and being vulnerable and sharing their experience to inspire you to overcome your own adversity.

The big goal is to take it on an international tour where we give other people the platform to share their stories and we come together as a unity to unite on storytelling, sharing our adversities and being uplifted by others that have risen above something that you might be going through.

Alycia Anderson: I love it. When was born to rise for lack of better words born?

Aiesha Robinson: 2015 then, because of the pandemic, we only started back up last year in 2023, so we didn’t have a show for the last… 2020 we didn’t show. 2021 we didn’t have a show, and in 2022 we didn’t have a show.

Alycia Anderson: I love this format because it feels like almost like an open mic for speakers. Like come do you. Share your platform. Share your advocacy. Share your message, and see how it resonates. And I think that that’s an amazing, beautiful format and opportunity for other…, for speakers who are new or not to step on stage and have an experience. I think that’s really awesome.

Aiesha Robinson: 95% of our speakers never spoke in front of an audience of 500 people. So let alone, you’re speaking for the first time in front of a crowd like that, but being vulnerable on top of it as well, you know, and sharing your experience.

But what I love about it is, that afterwards, after the speakers share their story, it’s them coming up to me and saying, wow, that changed my life and them wanting to continue to share their message.

That’s the beauty in it for the speakers, and then obviously for the audience, it’s them being inspired and, you know, there’s hope for them now to like… ohh… OK… if that person was able to overcome it, then I can too.

Alycia Anderson: So what’s your… what’s your North Star? Like what are you dreaming of the most?

Aiesha Robinson: I truly believe that I am here to inspire, so I want to get on as much stages as possible to share my message. I want to even help people, coach people to fall back in love with themselves.

Because we weren’t born to hate ourselves, we learned that over time. It’s instilled in us.

So, for people to get back to that toddler stage of themselves where life was care free and that was because they had pure love and pure joy.

I want to take people back to that. So that is… that’s my goal… that’s my mission, is to just pour myself into others.

Alycia Anderson: You are such a beautiful person. OK, so we’re gonna put all of your information on the show notes. Where to get involved with Born to Rise, how to follow you on all your social media. Where to book you to speak. Maybe we’ll, maybe you and I will share the stage, I think. We need to.

Aiesha Robinson: Oh my God. I would be amazing. Yes.

Alycia Anderson: That would be amazing. I think we could do something really cool.

Aiesha Robinson: Yeah.

Alycia Anderson: So, I’m gonna put you on the spot for one last thing. At the end of the show, we always do a pushing forward moment, a mantra, advice, something that you could share with our audience to motivate them to push forward in their own path. Do you have a little nugget?

Aiesha Robinson: I would say, to remember that you were born to rise.

It doesn’t matter what adversity you’re going through. It doesn’t matter what setbacks know that you weren’t going to fail. You weren’t born to stay at the bottom. You were born to rise above it.

And if you remember that, you will find the will and the power from within, because that’s where it comes from.

To continue and to rise.

Alycia Anderson: Ah, born to rise! I’ve got chills all the way up and down. Down to my toes, and I can’t even feel my toes. Thank you so much for sharing your magic today on this podcast with me. I am so thrilled. You’re absolutely amazing.

Aiesha Robinson: Thank you likewise.

Alycia Anderson: Thank you so much to our listeners for showing up this week for this conversation.

This is Pushing Forward with Alycia, and that is literally how we roll on this podcast.