By Joe Roberts @jrobertsjourno
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Nine-year-old She’riq, was born with Albinism but her twin brother Te’riq was born without the condition.
She’riq told Barcroft TV: “People sometimes don't believe we are twins. We’re totally different. He's funnier than me and I’m just kind of calm.
“Everybody comes up to me and they're like ‘why are you lighter than your brother?’ So I tell them.”
Te’riq added: “I help my sister because my friends always tell me ‘hey Te’riq why is your sister a different type of color?’ and then I just explain it and they’re like ‘oh that’s cool’.”
One in 18,000 to 20,000 people in the United States are born with Albinism, which causes pale skin, sensitivity to the sun, and eyesight issues.
This wasn’t the first experience of Albinism for parents Sherria and Terry Elliott Sr., who had welcomed a daughter with the same condition 10 years before the twins.
Now 20, older sister Sheterria has been a mentor and support for She’riq, having navigated the negativity that can come when living with a misunderstood condition.
She said: “I think that I've helped my sister cope with having Albinism because I've gone through all the hard times so I was able to educate her, let her know that it's not a disease, you're okay, we're going to be fine.
“I would tell her how to respond to certain remarks, be nice, but let them know what it is that you have.”
She recalled when the twins were first born: “I was in elementary school and I was so excited because I wanted one to come out looking like me.
“My brother picked me up from school and we went to the hospital and everybody was quiet. They took me to the NICU because they said one of the babies was in there.
“I go to the window and when they opened the window, my sister was there and she had a head full of blonde hair like me. She looked just like me. I started crying. That was the best moment ever.”
Older brother, Terry Jr. said: “It was just a reincarnation of me and Sheterria. I’m the oldest and she's under me so when I found out that Te’riq came out like me and She’riq had albinism it was like a whole me and Sheterria born again.”
While there’s no history of Albinism in Sherria or Terry Sr.’s family, the combination of their genes appears to have a significantly increased chance of resulting in a child with the disorder.
Dad, Terry Sr., said: “We didn't know one of the twins had Albinism until She’riq was born. Looking at the doctors’ facial expressions was just amazing. It was shocking to all of them.”
Now nine, the twins are an inseparable team, with the calm and centred She’riq balancing out her more animated brother.
Mum, Sherria, said: “The twins have a wonderful relationship, I love their relationship and it kind of makes me wish I had a twin growing up.
“My daughter, She’riq, she's very caring, very nurturing, kind of like me. And my son Te’riq is very outgoing, very funny like his dad.”
And while She’riq was potentially facing a much tougher upbringing than her brother, older sister Sheterria made sure her younger sister was prepared for what lay ahead.
The older Elliott sister had experienced her share of obstacles due to her condition and was keen to ensure her sister didn’t go through the same thing.
She recalled a particularly tough time as a young girl: “In pre-Kindergarten, we had to go to the high school that was across the street.
“So we would walk to the high school to eat lunch and during that time, that's where the kids were throwing food at me.
“I was the lightest person in the school because it was an African American school. I was crying, bawling. I was like ‘mummy, I don't understand why these kids are treating me like this’.”
Experiences like this allowed Sheterria to understand how people reacted to Albinism out in the world, so she ensured her younger sister met any questions or judgement head-on.
She’riq said: “My sister helped me with my Albinism because she comforts me. She helped me with talking to more people, because I used to be kind of shy. But now I just like to make friends.”
Meanwhile, Sheterria has now learned to overcome the negativity and embrace herself – modelling and launching her own eyelash extension company.
“When I look in the mirror, I see somebody who has come a long way,” she said. “Looking in the mirror now is totally different from how I used to look in the mirror because when I wake up, I don't have my makeup done and everything is blonde.
“My eyebrows are blonde, my eyelashes are blonde, everything is blonde, and I used to hate that. I used to not be proud of who I used to see when I looked at the mirror. But now I look in the mirror and I'm like ‘yes, you cute’.”
Recently the twins and Sheterria were chosen to be part of an uplifting photo series called the ‘Skin I’m In’ project, which was exhibited in Houston.
Photographer Ferrell Phelps shot with numerous individuals with skin conditions in an attempt to, in his own words, “make a difference.”
Phelps, speaking at a gala event for the photo series in Houston, said: “I was looking for people of all different skin types, variations, ethnicities, and so forth, to be a part of a project.
“I want everybody to be accepted for their uniqueness. I want them to be accepted for who they are. I want the modelling industry to change. I want the commercial industry to change. And I'd love to see more people with uniquely beautiful skin.”
After seeing their photos in the exhibition, the twins were clearly proud of sharing their unique look with others.
“I never thought I’d be a part of something like this,” said She’riq. “I think it's really cool that Ferrell is doing this for people that have different kinds of skin.
“I really like it because it can tell people that they're beautiful the way they are.”
Sherria said: “I'm very proud of my girls. I'm very proud of where they are, accepting who they are, that's what I'm most proud of.
“Just to see where they came from to now, not being able to look people in the eye because they want to look away because they don't know what the person is saying to them or the person is pointing, wondering why their skin is different than ours.
“Every kid wants to look like mum and dad so we just had to teach them that this is how God made you. We love you regardless, unconditionally, but until they learn to love themselves that was the key. And once they did that, I mean, it was like magic, like a blessing.”