Early in Kajuan Thorpe’s life he was diagnosed with Sickle Cell Disease (SCD). Only guessing that he was diagnosed as a baby Kajuan doesn’t dwell on the fact long, maybe its having lived with SCD his whole life, or maybe because it’s motivated him to live his life to the fullest, Kajuan has proven that Sickle Cell Disease is not his kryptonite, but a central factor to positively changing how he navigates the world. To be frank, the dudes no joke. Growing up in Philadelphia Kajuan has walked the hallways of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s hematology center, Philly’s streets, prison wards, all before finding his own path in Fashion. I spoke with Kajuan about how his incredible life has been impacted by SCD, growing up in Philadelphia, how fashion came to be his true calling, and why he’s so compelled to not only give back to the SCD community but leave a lasting influence for our youth.
Kiersten Adams: How does Sickle Cell Disease impact your everyday life?
Kaujuan Thorpe: On a day to day it’s the same thing with any other individual living with sickle cell. Sometimes I have trouble with moving around due to the crisis, sometimes I’m a little moody. But I never let that consume me out the course of the day because even when I am sick, I rarely visit the hospital. I have problems when I do go to the hospital too and if I’m there for two days or three days, I guess that might be too long of a stay. You know how it goes, the stigma that they have on us.
KA: You talked about being able to see your friends in the hospital when you were younger, what was your transition like from pediatric care to adult healthcare facilities?
KT: Totally different. It was like a whole 360 coming from CHOP. And this could be anybody that you speak to with sickle cell. Going from CHOP, [where they] take extra care of us, and moving into adulthood where it’s like, ‘you guys don’t really look like y’all sick.’ In the ER I’ve been asked before, ‘are you still sick?’ Then another doctor comes in and asks, ‘am I feeling better?’ even though I just rated my pain on a scale from 1 to 10, a 10. My last visit, I actually was forcefully released, and that was the first time I ever experienced that. With my friends, they’ve told me about times they ended appointments and nurses are sneaking in the room or people come in and question them.
KA: What’s it like seeking treatment as a Black man in the healthcare system?
KT: Being African American right now especially in this climate, I just feel like it’s an inhumane situation. With healthcare, in fashion, and business, It’s on a downward spiral in our community with everything that’s going on. There’s a lot that might not get spoken on because we also feel like we don’t have the upper hand.
KA: How comfortable are you with advocating for yourself in a hospital or ER?
KT: I’m always comfortable with advocating for myself and I never let people put me in a space where they think they know more than me. I don’t care what degrees you have, what person you know, how long you’ve been in business or anything because everybody is entitled to their own opinion. That’s where I feel like Crescent is putting us in a good space especially during this climate with black lives matter. Instead of trying to be understanding and knowing of somebody’s pain, it’d be easier to just listen.
KA: Do you feel seen or heard in the healthcare system?
KT: There are certain things I feel should be accessible to us. There are certain people that should be speaking up for us. We’re not paid attention to as much as all the other diseases because of our race. I’m pretty sure if it was white males and females that suffered from sickle cell disease, it would be a lot more money dumped into procedures and research.
KA: Do you feel like you have access to resources in adult healthcare facilities?
KT: I’m not going to say that we don’t have great resources concerning sickle cell because there are programs. I do feel with getting older, there’s not much awareness around the sickness of adults versus being a kid with sickle cell.
KA: I want to know about how you came to build this fashion company that is Rare Geneticz.
KT: I came up with the name during a stint in prison. I just made my mind up when I was sitting in there that this is not the route I want to take. And with me having so much influence in my family and my community, it’s like people hold you at a higher standard. I came up with the name around 2007, and it fit perfectly with the message I’m trying to get across with me living with sickle cell.
KA: How do you think you and your work will impact the SCD community?
KT: It will be the leading example for advocating a change in my community. There was a time when I was young that I dabbled in selling drugs, I have a firearm charge, but it’s kinda the norm in my neighborhood. It’s difficult for me to talk about this, but I just had to bury a family member of mine, my little cousin died from senseless gun violence and I just felt like with me doing these things and me moving as fast as possible with building a brand and meeting different people and showing my family different things, they won’t be subjected to being in the streets or being killed in the streets.
KA: What pushed you into fashion?
KT: Learning about different brands, products, and different ways to wear clothing. During my prison stint, it’s like you’re trying to find where you belong, or you’re trying to find out who you are or what’s your purpose for being here? I found that purpose in fashion because that’s what comes easy to me. People started saying to me, ‘yo, we love how you dress man. You are always ahead of the curve.’ Stuff like that made me really dive head first into starting my own brand. Because I figured instead of me buying my own clothes, why not make them.
KA: What made you want to partner with Crescent foundation?
KT: I feel like I owe it to myself, my family and the sickle cell community. I don’t want to be labeled as a person that had success and just left. Because that’s the problem that we have now, nobody is trying to lead. It’s just everybody leaving. I want to be able to break that stigma of us being drug-seekers and people not having a full understanding of what Sickle cell is. Not getting attention that it deserves. I want to be a part of the change because like I said growing up, nobody was really spreading positivity through my community. Organizations like the Crescent Foundation are assisting not just our people, but people in general. I feel like Crescent is a perfect foundation right now to lead by example.
Kajuan is a unique individual, who has turned his unfortunate traumas into positivity and beauty. As a society, we all should take a page out of Kajuan’s book and reflect on ways we can make the human experience better for everyone. To support Kajuan and to follow his rise in the fashion industry, follow his Instagram today.