By: Ashley Mahoney
Terrell Midgett is using art to bring awareness to vitiligo.
Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease, which occurs when pigment-forming cells in cells cease working in the skin. Midgett’s diagnosis occurred when he was in fifth grade. Now 44, he is an advocate for a disease that is particularly apparent when it impacts people of color.
“Even though I’ve had some bad days, vitiligo has been my gift,” Midgett said. “Some people would do anything to get attention. Whatever room I walk in, I automatically have the stage.”
Midgett is working with photographers around the country, including Patrice Johnson in Charlotte, to record images of those with the disease throughout June, which is Vitiligo Awareness month. Telvin Wallace, an artist based in Raleigh, will paint portraits from the photographs for an exhibit titled “Love is Life, the Vitiligo Experience.”
The exhibit is scheduled for June 25 on World Vitiligo Day at St. Augustine’s University at the Seby B. Jones Art Gallery from 6-8:30 p.m. and admission is free. Social distancing will be heavily enforced should the event take place, but due to recent spikes in COVID-19 cases in North Carolina, the opening may be postponed. However, Midgett still intends to do something to observe World Vitiligo Day.
“Art gives a visual,” he said. “When I’ve had the stage, so many people would not come up and talk to me to find out what’s going on with me, but they would look and stare. In an exhibit, they can come up and see the art, and see what vitiligo is, and they can also see people’s stories of living with vitiligo.”
Midgett’s condition often resulted in accusations of painting his face black, also known as blackface. He faced discrimination from just about every angle, yet the insults and assumptions were not confined to issues of race during the Trump administration. When former President Barack Obama ran for office, Midgett said people accused him of trying to be white based on his large patches of lighter skin.
Yet Midgett keeps fighting. U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) introduced legislation advocating for vitiligo awareness and funding on the federal level, and Midgett attended the Congressional Black Caucus’ annual convention in Washington D.C. to support the initiative.
“Congress has not been able to pass a law to support our community, because they see vitiligo as cosmetic,” Midgett said. “They don’t see it as anything that can tear us down. They don’t see the side effects of the public’s perception of how we look—the mental side, the emotional side, the social side. Some people have vitiligo, and they haven’t embraced it. Sometimes they’ll refuse t leave a house. That’s why we have a North Carolina support group, to reach those who are having difficulty embracing their appearance.”
Midgett also wants to provide support for the support system of those who have the disease.
“When I go out in public, it doesn’t bother me as much as it did, because I’ve become numb to it, but when my wife and I are out, and someone may say something, she is in defense mode, and she doesn’t get numb to it, because she loves me,” Midgett said. “We’re working on support for our support.”