When she was first diagnosed with a rare skin disorder eight years ago, Aiesha Robinson was devastated but today, the Montrealer is determined to help others who find themselves suffering as she once did.

Robinson suffers from vitiligo, a disease that causes discolouration of the skin. It’s the same condition that Michael Jackson was diagnosed with in the 1980s.

“Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease where it’s your own body that’s attacking milino sites, or the cells that produce pigment in the skin,” said MUHC dermatologist Beatrice Wang.

The condition first became noticeable while Robinson was a student at Dawson College.

“I had a small white dot my right thumb,” she said.

The dot soon multiplied as Robinson lost pigment in her hands and face. The psychological effects were devastating as Robinson soon became depressed, even contemplating suicide.

“I was already self-conscious and I had already had low self-esteem, so to add this to the pile… it wasn’t a great time, no,” she said. “Walking down the streets and you have people staring at you and making negative comments, it’s something entirely different.”

It was her older brother who convinced her that her life was actually just beginning.

“He’s the one who told me, basically in every negative situation there is a positive and to go out there and find the positive,” she said.

She founded Born to Rise, a non-profit that began as a support group for others with vitiligo, but soon evolved into a place for other young people who feel marginalized to speak out.

“This girl I coached last summer was 18-years-old, she went to a party and she was raped twice,” said Robinson. “She told her story and I just broke down because you really know, you don’t know what other people are going through.”

Where Robinson once felt ugly because of her condition, in May Robinson was signed to a modelling contract. A month later, she was speaking to a crowd in front of the Capital Building in Washington, D.C. on World Vitiligo Day.

Looking back, she said her disease, which once made her feel her weakest, has helped her find strength.

“We all are going through something in our lives. We are all born to rise, in the sense that you weren’t born to be a failure,” she said. “You were born to overcome whatever adversity it is.”