New York City has 8 million stories. It is the concrete jungle where dreams are made, a melting pot rich with cultural heritage. Those who are born and raised here are indigenous to the urban lifestyle. Others, whom natives call transplants, have to adapt quickly, learning that it is the survival of the fittest.

Life for Ann Marie Johnson was no different. She grew up in Brooklyn, graduated from college with a degree in human services and received a master’s degree, specializing in working with the disabled. The Brooklyn native is a social services professional and works each day with a passion, helping people change their lives.

Ironically, Johnson’s life took a dramatic turn when she became afflicted with multiple sclerosis (MS). Her story is special because it personifies the spirit and resilience that prove that winners never quit and quitters never win.

Johnson is one of the dynamic, courageous and vivacious African-American women living with MS and, more importantly, is living! “I was diagnosed on New Year’s Eve 2002 at the age of 32,” she said. “There was no dancing that year. My hands, legs and feet were in so much pain.”

Desperate for answers, she did research and learned that more than 400,000 Americans are diagnosed with MS, which is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system. It can affect your brain, spinal chord and optic nerves. Johnson discovered that MS occurred less frequently in African-Americans than in Caucasians and that African-Americans tend to have more aggressive forms of MS.

“It really affected me emotionally and physically. I thought I would never walk again. I thought that my life was over,” she recalled. “Here I was, young, single, living in the city that never sleeps, suddenly finding myself tired and sleeping all the time.”

When Johnson broke the news at her job, her co-workers and director rallied behind her. Her family, friends and doctors encouraged her to fight. She also drew strength from MS Connections, a peer interaction group provided by the MS Society.

“My supervisor made it clear to me when she said, ‘You are now going to work in the field of Developmental Disabilities. If you don’t know that anything and everything is possible, when will you know? What’s true for the population you serve is now true for you.’”

Johnson’s disability did not deter her from her passion to work in the field for 25 years. During MS Awareness Week, she shares her story with others at different venues throughout the city and continues to extend her hand to those with MS.

“We who are face to face with MS chose to step out on faith and live audaciously,” she declared. “We are students, teachers, pastors, nurses, entrepreneurs, runners, cyclists, writers, singers, entertainers, talk show hosts, mothers and even a father-in-law of presidents!”

Johnson said it best when she quoted Maya Angelou: “‘The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious, the desire to reach hearts is wise.’”