Joe Sparkman is part of our series of conversations produced in partnership with StoryCorps to help change the narrative around neurodegenerative disease. 

Julián Esteban Torres interviewed his friend Melvin “Joe” Sparkman about living with multiple sclerosis. In the conversation, Joe talks about challenges he has faced getting a job, interactions he has had with doctors, and how his life has been during the COVID-19 pandemic.

From the recording:

“What saved me was I had my first black doctor. When I first got her as a doctor I didn’t know that I was supposed to be treated so kindly. I didn’t know that doctors didn’t interrupt you after they asked you a question. I didn’t know that doctors weren’t so quick to cut you off—it was just a whole different experience.”

Find the full conversation here: Joe Sparkman and Julián Torres

More about Joe

Joe Sparkman, 39

I’ve been living with multiple sclerosis (MS) since 2002. However, my official diagnosis was in 2006. My first symptoms were vision related. The room looked as if I was viewing it one frame at a time on a film strip at a rapid rate. I was a junior in college at the University of New Haven (Conn.) studying a to earn a business degree in music industry. Because of the symptoms I experienced, I couldn’t return for my senior year. Two years later I went into law enforcement. My official MS diagnosis ended that journey, so I decided to pursue my dreams in music as a producer.

My college friend, Marcus Allen, and I were already a production group by the name of The Heavyweights. We produced a plethora of prominent artists such as: Ne-Yo, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliot, Rihanna, Emeli Sandé, Christina Milian and several others. I earned multiple Grammy awards, and American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) award for Best R&B Contemporary Album for the Ne-Yo album, “All Because of You.” Eventually the traveling would catch up to me.

Joe with his son, Adonis.

I returned home and decided to finish school except this time I was told that my previous three years wouldn’t count so I had to start over at Day 1.

I ended up completing an associate degree in visual communications, a bachelor’s degree in web design and an MBA in marketing.

While I was in school I started a medical and pharmaceutical distribution company. My partner and I created the virtual prescription distribution license in the state of Massachusetts, and we were the first people in the state’s history to receive this license—because we created it. That license is definitely being utilized today due to COVID-19.

One thing MS has taught me is that I always have to be prepared for the worst, and if the worst happens I should be willing to accept those changes and move on. It has also taught me the art of reinventing myself. Nowadays, I’m a professional volunteer and involve myself in a lot of projects:

  • I’m a district activist leader for the National MS Society. In this role I speak to the Congress and Senate about the legislative concerns and priorities of the National MS Society. I’m also an advisor to the board.
  • During the 2020 elections, I am proud to say that I helped flipped Georgia blue. I volunteered for two different campaigns in two different counties and served as the captain chairman and will continue to do so.

I waited until 2019 to tell people about my diagnosis. I wondered why other people kept it a secret. Now that I’ve went public, I understand why. People treat you differently.

Hear more about that and Joe’s life with MS in his conversation with
Julián here.

You can find Joe on Twitter @JoeSparkman7.