Sandra Epps: Founder, Executive Director of SHE’S Empowered

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he butterfly is symbolic to lupus, says Sandra Epps, founder of SHE'S (Sisters Helping Encourage Sisters) Empowered.

"The butterfly shape represents the rash that appears on a lupus patient's face," she explains, "but (the butterfly) also represents prosperity, hope and transformation."

Epps' transformation began with finding hope in hardship.

"For me, I can remember, it was like I was carrying a refrigerator on my back," says Epps, who was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus at age 14. The disease attacked her central nervous system, kidneys and heart.

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"Lupus in a sense snatched my childhood because I was sick," Epps says. "My friends were having fun, going on their first dates with their girlfriends or boyfriends. While everybody else was doing their thing, I was trying to stay alive."

Started in 2010, SHE'S Empowered raises lupus awareness through community events, featuring motivational speakers, panel discussions, workshops on skincare, painting parties, business and more-all focused on empowering girls of all ages to live their best life. Epps says each event is like one big "support group."

"I not only wanted to spread the word about lupus, but I wanted something that would be empowering for women," says Epps. "You go to all these support events and there's always a lot of talking. And some people leave and they are still feeling bad."

She adds, "I want these women to leave saying, 'She overcame this. I can, too. I can still lead a happy life.' Something to know that in spite of what you are going through, you can still succeed."

Epps says her struggles with lupus helped her find her life's passion in helping people.

"For me it was the biggest blessing," says Epps, who was inspired to write two children's books-Imani Has the Most Exciting Dream! and Girl Power: Discover the Princess Within-about her lupus diagnosis. "I really wanted to do something with my life. Lupus kind of helped me find my life's purpose."

Epps plans SHE'S Empowered events out of her home office in Detroit. But soon, the organization plans to go mobile with the Butterfly Corner, a mobile unit designed to be an outlet of therapy that can come directly to lupus patients. As Epps explains, since lupus has no cure, SHE'S Empowered is about helping lupus patients get through their struggles now.

"It's about giving them hope. You don't have to live sick and down and out for the rest of your life. It's not the end of your life," says Epps. "So that negative thing that you may be going through or that challenge may turn out to be your blessing or to put you on that road to success."

Adds Epps, "And that's what the butterfly represents."

The Butterfly Bash at the Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit

The sixth annual Butterfly Bash begins at 4 p.m. on May 17 at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History (315 E. Warren Ave., Detroit) featuring a special Mardi Gras theme. Sisters Helping Encourage Sisters (SHE'S) Empowered invites you to raise awareness for lupus with live music, fashion shows, painting workshops and a special awards ceremony honoring local women who have overcome health hardships. Tickets are $40-$65.

Lupus Awareness Month

The most important thing to know about lupus is that the disease affects everyone differently, says Sandra Epps, founder of Sisters Helping Encourage Sisters (SHE'S) Empowered.

"So just like everyone's personality is different, lupus for everyone can be different," explains Epps. "It's still hard to diagnose to this day, because it mimics so many other illnesses in its symptoms."

And in some cases, lupus gives no symptoms at all.

"The one big thing that a lot of lupus patients deal with is: You look OK. You don't look like you are sick, but it can be a lot going on internally for systemic lupus," says Epps.

May is Lupus Awareness Month. Visit SHESEmpowered.com to learn more about local and national resources to combat the disease.

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