Back to Healing (BTH), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that helps improve the quality of life of people who are affected by scoliosis, has recently partnered with Medtronic (a global leader in medical technology, services, and solutions). The collaboration will provide free implants, surgical instruments, and equipment to underprivileged children living with severe scoliosis in Brazil.
BLACK ENTERPRISE spoke with Marcus John, the founder and executive director of Back to Healing. John talked about the mission of his nonprofit company, the recent partnership with Medtronic, and how he runs his organization while still working in the fashion industry.
You started a nonprofit organization to improve the quality of life of people affected by scoliosis. Why, and what is the mission of Back to Healing?
Growing up, I was always taught to lend a helping hand to those in need wherever I can. Whether that may be financially, mentally, emotionally, creatively, or in this case, all of the above — even if I’m unable to relate to one’s unique experience. My professional background is in the fashion and art industries as a creative director, producer, and wardrobe stylist. My job is to come up with unique and intriguing concepts for brands, publications, and musicians. Whether it be for their marketing and branding campaigns, look books, editorials, runway shows, music videos, exhibitions, etc. Personally, I’ve always had an infatuation for strong storytelling and powerful visual stories.
After having a friend suffer from a severe ‘S-shaped spinal curvature while growing up, I witnessed firsthand the daily struggles of what it is like to live with scoliosis; empathetically seeing the drastic physical and mental effects. I knew I wanted to be a positive inspiration for my friend and to the many people living with this condition by making each and every one of them feel beautiful in their purest forms — where the definition of strength and true beauty isn’t hindered by society’s superficial projections. I want the world to realize beauty is not only skin deep. At Back to Healing (BTH), our mission is to improve the quality of life for individuals affected by scoliosis through mental health awareness, empowerment, education, and advocacy.
You’ve also worked in the fashion industry for some time. How have you been able to stay in the fashion world while assisting people with healing?
I strategically founded my nonprofit organization, BTH, to hold and operate on a few key elements that are dear to my heart and interest me most — mental health awareness, representation, empowerment, art, fashion, education, and strong storytelling. I know it may sound cliché, but when I design the programming and projects for BTH alongside my team, I don’t feel as if I’m “working.” It sort of feels like we run a creative agency with a deep purpose.
Ironically, I’m still able to work with many fashion brands such as Lulu Lemon, Alex and Ani, Jimmy Choo, and Michael Kors, but in an entirely different way. For example, I co-designed an exclusive three-piece capsule collection with Alex and Ani, in which all of the items sold out online and in stores. We also created a yoga and wellness mini-retreat in NYC a couple of years ago that Lulu Lemon sponsored, where all of the participants in our class were living with a spinal deformity instructed by a certified yoga instructor that also had scoliosis.
Back to Healing recently partnered with Medtronic. Explain what the collaboration is about and the expectations for the partnership?
In the United States and the developed world, early screening, observation, and treatment most commonly prevent spinal deformities such as scoliosis from progressing to severity. In many underserved countries, however, there is a scarcity of both awareness and care for these conditions and, as a consequence, they are allowed to progress unchecked until they become extreme and dangerous. High magnitudes of spinal curvatures can not only result in significant cosmetic deformity and impaired posture but can also compromise lung, heart, and spinal cord function, as well as mental health.
With an elite group of doctors, medical volunteers, and psychologists who have a passion for helping communities in need, BTH, in partnership with Medtronic, will execute mission trips in Africa, South America, and throughout the Caribbean. On these week-long mission trips, BTH provides free medical, mental health, and surgical care for up to 10 patients living with severe scoliosis. The medical implants, instruments, and equipment will be provided by Medtronic. The BTH mission trips will be dedicated to improving the overall healthcare of scoliosis patients while providing training experience and education for the local surgeons at each hospital. Not only will patients directly benefit, but our team will create a sustainable program by training and empowering local surgeons to be able to safely operate without us even after we depart.
A huge success measure will be to achieve all positive outcomes from the severe scoliosis cases our team will be operating on paired with magnificent aftercare.
There is a mental health proponent associated with scoliosis. How will Back to Healing deal with complications that come along with scoliosis?
Before answering this question, I would like to highlight a couple of different types of mental health issues that surround this condition. Various explanations exist for why there is a link between scoliosis and reduced quality of life. The noticeable curvatures of the back, shoulders, and hips sitting at different heights can result in low self-esteem and a negative perceived self-body image. In addition, wearing a brace during grade school when having to already deal with the normal pressures of growing up as a teenager, and/or having a permanent curvature or scar on your back after surgical treatment can also compromise psychological integrity — for both adolescents and adults. The truth is that many people just don’t want to be seen let alone engage in any type of sport, dance, or occasion that exposes their spine.
By understanding the juxtaposition of spinal deformities and mental health, BTH strategically creates projects, programs, and campaigns that empower and educate individuals affected by scoliosis to help break the stigmas within our society. Our organization’s holistic approach to scoliosis has shown that this condition is about more than just the curvatures and its degrees, as 96% of our BTH campaign participants felt empowered as a result of participating in our mental health programs. Participants also felt that they were given a voice and expressed developing a newfound love of self and a better appreciation of their own body image.
Representation, diversity, and inclusion are extremely important to us, and studies have shown that finding similarities in other people helps us live happier and healthier lives, and those are the exact issues that our BTH Empowerment Photo x Art Exhibitions address. As research indicates, art is healing, and through the power of art therapy and representation, our carefully designed projects inspire, educate, and help those affected by scoliosis cope with and recover from trauma.
What do you anticipate in terms of future expansion for Back to Healing? What would you like to see take place?
At BTH we have major plans. From executing annual mission trips for inner-city kids throughout the Caribbean, Africa, and South America to provide free surgical and mental health care, to launching celebrity empowerment, research, and educational patient summits, to continuing to highlight and celebrate more diverse stories globally through our empowerment photo and art exhibitions, to implementing a new back to school program that provides free scoliosis checks and braces in collaboration with some of the world’s leading surgeons and medical device companies, plus more. We strive in being the premier patient organization that specializes in all things scoliosis from education to empowerment, mental health awareness, advocacy, and spine art.