In recent years, vitiligo has gained public visibility as representation has increased in advertising and even Hollywood movies—but there’s always room for greater awareness. That’s why more than 200 people joined the 2023 Walk for Vitiligo in Al Lopez Park in Tampa, Florida, on September 30. Hosted by Beautifully Unblemished, a Florida-based vitiligo support group, the walk sought to increase public awareness of vitiligo in the local community.
The event started with a local high school drumline marching one mile with the participants, drumming up excitement for the crowd. Those living with vitiligo walked alongside friends, family and coworkers and completed a 5k walk. One of these walkers was Ben Brown, who was diagnosed with vitiligo in 2015.
“I lost a piece of myself when I got diagnosed with vitiligo,” said Ben, who shared that he struggled significantly with his self-worth and social relationships after getting vitiligo. For Ben, the walk was about community and connection. “Being around other people who have the same condition is comforting; our common experience allows us to uplift one another.”
During the event, participants and the event’s emcees, who were local TV news anchors, shared stories about their lives with rare skin conditions.
Elementary student and Beautifully Unblemished group member Dallas shared from the stage how she sometimes faces bullying from her peers, but said, “having a support group can help me not care what other people think.” She explained that the support group gives her “people who love me and who surround me with love, kindness and fun.”
Many participants walked carrying posters printed with the phrase “I walk for vitiligo because…” In the blank space after these words, attendees filled in their own personal reasons for joining this walk for vitiligo. One woman’s sign read, “I walk for vitiligo because I love the skin I’m in,” while her young daughter’s sign read, “I walk for vitiligo because I love my mommy,” complete with hand-drawn hearts in purple marker. Another man’s sign stated, “I walk for vitiligo because I want the world to know we exist!”
Alongside raising awareness in the community, the main purpose of the walk was to raise funds for Beautifully Unblemished. The nonprofit plans to use funds raised to continue its efforts in providing resources and programs to those living with vitiligo. Sponsorships from companies such as Incyte and Avita Medical helped the group put on the event.
After the 5k walk, the event’s entertainment continued with a live music performance by a local clarinetist. Walk participants could then commemorate the event by stepping into a 360-degree photo booth against a custom backdrop featuring a balloon arch in several shades of purple and a neon “Vitiligo” sign.
Attendees had the opportunity to shop handmade goods from local vendors and visit information booths featuring local dermatological practices and other wellness service providers. And for an added dose of fun, medical students from the University of South Florida led an arts and crafts station for kids.
Beautifully Unblemished support group offers in-person meetings throughout Central and South Florida, classroom education for elementary, middle and high school students living with vitiligo and mental health education and resources for children and adults. Their website also offers information about vitiligo and updates on vitiligo treatments, research and clinical trials.
Erika Page is the Founder and Editor of Living Dappled. After getting vitiligo at the age of seven, she lost 100% of her pigment to the condition and today lives with universal vitiligo.