If you’re a regular reader of our chapter’s quarterly newsletter, MS Connection, the name Irvina Booker may sound familiar to you. Or, perhaps you’re familiar with Irvina’s Englewood-based self-help group, Faith is Our Pathway. Either way, once you meet Irvina, she’s a hard person to forget – and that’s a great thing.
As Vice President of Programs and Services Nancy Chazen said, “Irvina’s drive and motivation is contagious!”
Irvina connected with the New Jersey Metro Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in 2006. She came to the chapter looking for guidance in developing a self-help group in her community.
“She recognized that African Americans with MS were not very visible – she wanted to change that,” said Nancy.
Irvina Booker began experiencing MS symptoms in 1978, just four years after the birth of her daughter. However, it wasn’t until 1992 that Irvina was officially diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.
“I attended monthly Society events, but rarely encountered people of color,” Irvina said.
Irvina was looking to connect and couldn’t find a way to do so that fit her needs.
“This began my journey to find others that looked like me with this disease,” Irvina said. “I became vocal about multiple sclerosis in my community and other towns in Bergen, Passaic and Essex County,” said Irvina.
She started from the ground up. Irvina distributed information and flyers in community centers and churches. She provided her contact information and fielded calls from people looking to learn more about MS. In October 2007, Irvina founded the Bergen County self-help group Faith is Our Pathway.
“My purpose is to bring African Americans and people of color together who are living with this disease to share a common life experience for education, advocacy, support and recreation,” Irvina said.
Don’t misunderstand though. Faith is Our Pathway is open to anyone looking to connect and learn more about MS. In fact, Irvina continually engages with the chapter to support anyone with MS.
“We laugh, cry, encourage and pray that this disease will soon disappear,” Irvina said. “We are a close, bonded family.”
“She is a true leader – she inspires her group members to be active in the community, to play a role in the care and treatment of their own MS and to help spread awareness of MS so people have a better understanding of what it is like to live with this disease,” Nancy said.
Faith is Our Pathway looks to connect beyond a traditional meeting setting. The group recently organized a community MS Awareness Walk. Past events include: Bowling for MS, MS Awareness Barbecue and an MS Inspirational Musical Concert. The group also attends local health fairs and the Englewood Memorial Day Parade.
And, to top it off, the group routinely invites local politicians to participate in its events.
“It is crucial to raise awareness because there is NO CURE for MS,” Irvina said. “We must contact our federal and state legislature to advocate for more research and funding to find a cure.”
Irvina is also became a member of the NJ Drug Policy Alliance, serving as an advocate for medical marijuana for those living with MS.
And, while Irvina sought to spread MS awareness in her community, the chapter sought Irvina out for another project. In 2015, Irvina became the chapter’s Community Outreach volunteer.
“In this role, Irvina will help the chapter reach out to other communities that need more attention to the cause of MS awareness,” Nancy said. “Irvina will be really able to connect with new people who are willing to help us move our mission forward.”
For Irvina, stepping into this lead volunteer role just seemed like a natural progression.
“I would be very remiss if I could not step in and do this. This is something I’ve been commissioned for through life’s situations,” Irvina said. “I feel compelled to do this! If I didn’t I could cease to be myself.”
Faith is Our Pathway meets at the Ebenezer Baptist Church (216 4th Street, Englewood, NJ) on the 3rd Saturday of the month from 10 AM – 12 PM. The next meeting will be on March 21. To connect with Irvina and learn more about her group, connect her at email@example.com.