I can’t remember how I stumbled onto Just a Little Suga’, but after reading Ariel Lawrence’s take on Black Panther, I was taken by her message, her writing style, and her honesty.  Ariel stopped by to chat here on SixUntilMe today, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share her story.

Kerri:  Thanks for taking the time to chat! Could you please tell readers here a bit about yourself and your diabetes diagnosis?

Ariel:  Thank you for having me! I’m Ariel and I’ve lived with type 1 diabetes for 12 years. I’m also a native New Yorker, who is passionate about addressing educational inequality, finding a good street festival and West African dance. Sharing my journey with diabetes and highlighting other people of color managing this disease is important to me as well.

I was diagnosed with type 1 right before my 16th birthday. At the time, I was relieved (and honestly a bit cheerful) as I now had an explanation for my frequent urination and smaller frame. I was not frightened by diabetes. My knowledge of its symptoms prompted a self-diagnosis before I set foot in the doctor’s office. I falsely assumed that if I could recognize its arrival, I’d have no problem adjusting to this new normal. Boy, did I have much to learn! That first year of living with diabetes was humbling, indeed.

Kerri:  How do you currently manage your diabetes?

Ariel:  In terms of technology and medication, I currently use the Medtronic 670g pump and Guardian sensor with Humalog insulin. I manage my diabetes best when I strive my hardest to maintain balance and prioritize self-care over work and other demands. But, I struggle with this and have a tendency to get consumed by work. Therapy has been instrumental in helping me realize the importance of privileging my health needs over other responsibilities and to not be so hard on myself, when I do drop the ball in areas related to self-care. With that said, when I do feel defeated by diabetes, I remind myself that –It is okay and I am okay. I can and will try again. Reflecting on this keeps me from wallowing in guilt and self defeat, especially when I feel I’ve “neglected” my health.

Kerri:  Your blog is called Just a Little Suga’ – why is that title important, and what made you start it?

Ariel:  The name of my blog, Just A Little Suga’ is intentional and serves a dual purpose. With it, I am not suggesting that sugar causes diabetes, it does not. Instead, I am submitting to the notion that life with diabetes is not terrible. Surprisingly, it can be sweet. Diabetes is not a certain death sentence, but it has made me more appreciative of life. Even with its difficulties, diabetes living can foster courage, resilience and higher standards of self-care. My second purpose with this title is to lovingly address those in my (black) community who tend to sugarcoat diabetes and/or dismiss it as a common life-occurrence. With the words, Just a Little Suga’, I am acknowledging the inability of some to take seriously the harmful effects of diabetes until it’s too late and the unfortunate misconceptions regarding the gravity of this disease (diabetes is a silent killer!)

I started the blog in 2016, two years after the passing of my grandmother from complications of type 2 diabetes. Though I’ve lived with type 1 for 12 years, my perception of this disease is greatly colored by my grandmother. Following her passing, I was desperate to find a compassionate community of diabetics who could empathize with my grief and encourage me to take better care of myself. I also began to critically reflect on my condition and how factors such as race, culture, family, and education impacted my perception of diabetes. In looking for a diabetes tribe and as a black woman, I hardly found individuals who looked like me. When I visited platforms whose goal it was to raise diabetes awareness, and to educate and support those with this disease, it bothered me that the voices of people of color were few and far. We too, are the face of diabetes. And as statistics reveal, we are also in dire need of support, access, and education.

In creating Just a Little Suga’ I wanted to address that. With my platform, I share my story and also highlight other folks of color coping with and tackling diabetes, with the goal of creating a community focused on living well. It’s my hope that in the process, I motivate myself and others to be resilient in the face of diabetes and also enlighten the friends/families of diabetics so they’ll be encouraged to better support them.

Kerri:  I really loved your post “Black Panther: A Reflection on Blackness and Diabetes Platforms.” Thank you for writing it. What made you want to address the issue of representation, and the importance of it, in the DOC?

Ariel:  Thank you for your kind words! After seeing Black Panther and the excitement around it, it became clear to me that positive portrayals of marginalized groups could be quite powerful. I felt compelled to draw a connection between the movie and the diabetes community, wondering, what if diabetes-focused organizations and social networks committed themselves to the increased (and positive) representation of black and brown diabetics fighting to live well with this disease? I wondered, would seeing such portrayals of people of color living with diabetes help counteract the negative associations between blackness and diabetes?

These questions around representation were important to me for multiple reasons. First, the diabetes community isn’t monolithic (though social media could lead you to think otherwise!) Yes, the incidence of type 1 diabetes is higher among non-Hispanic whites than other populations of color, but, when we factor in the presence of type 2 diabetes, we find that the overall prevalence of diabetes is higher among communities of color. The online community should accurately reflect this diversity. Second, the issue of representation is a matter of life and death. When I think of my grandmother’s death, I often wonder what would it have meant for my grandmother to have visible examples of people with diabetes who looked liked her and strived to live well? Black and brown folks who not only understood the inconvenience of diabetes, but also made intentional efforts to pursue a healthier lifestyle as a result.

Would she have been compelled to make better choices if given another chance? Would she have felt less alone in her struggles? Would she still be here today? Though this line of thinking may seem dark or dramatic, the reality is that the common narrative around people of color and diabetes is one that details racial and ethnic minorities higher risk of complications, higher prevalence of diabetes in comparison to whites, and higher rates of death from this disease. Perhaps, my grandma or anyone else struggling with diabetes in isolation, may have been encouraged by representative examples within the larger diabetes community.

Kerri:  What are some of your favorite posts, and why are they important to you?

Ariel:  The topic of diverse representation and inclusion is dear to me. As such, there are several articles both from my site and externally that touch on these. In terms of understanding why the issue of representation is so important, I think it’s important to consider these issues in their proper social and historical context. Therefore, some of my favorite articles touch on the prevalence of health disparities within America as well. Finally, in addition to viewing health through a social and political lens, I also am interested in psycho-social issues that affect diabetes management (support, mindsets etc.) Some of my favorite posts from my site highlight that as well.

Kerri:  And what can people do to help, as you said in your post, raise the visibility of people of color in the DOC?

Ariel:  I think in order for influencers or leading organizations within the DOC to help, it’s important that people first understand what’s at stake–disparate health outcomes. Having some sort of foundational knowledge around this can create a sense of urgency to raise the visibility of people of color (some of the above resources are a great start.) Additionally, interested allies, particularly those who are privileged/have power in some way, should become more intentional in seeking out these diverse voices. In navigating this online community, I have found people of color who are vocal about diabetes, and in my experience, many of them have access to certain marginalized groups. Mainstream organizations can spotlight/feature these individuals, collaborate with them on programming or invite them to be speakers at their events. In doing so, we can create an online community that is more welcoming and inclusive (I elaborate more on this in my Black Panther piece.) Additionally, if folks truly internalized the fact that the diabetes community is a vast and colorful one, that extends beyond their personal experience or network, I believe we could make more gains.

Kerri:  Where else can folks find out more about you?

Ariel:  People can keep up with my journey by following me on Instagram and my blog. I was also recently featured on the podcast, “Diabetic Doing Things,” so for those who are interested in listening to my story, you can find me there.