Lewis Diuguid

Jennifer Holliday inspires at MS society luncheon in Kansas City

Jennifer Holliday provided words of inspiration mixed with her Broadway-style music on Wednesday for people with multiple sclerosis and other chronic diseases.

Holliday, a two-time Grammy- and Tony Award-winning singer and actress best known for her 1982 Tony Award-winning role as Effie in “Dreamgirls,” lifted the spirits of about 200 people at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. The event was the “On the Move Luncheon” benefiting the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Mid America Chapter.

Holliday said she was diagnosed with M.S. 17 years ago but only went public with it in 2013 because of how others react. “I don’t like it when people come up to you and say, ‘I’m so sorry. How are you feeling?’

“I was feeling fine until I talked to you,” Holliday said to the audience’s laughter. “A lot of times it’s our attitude that will change a lot with MS or other illnesses.”

First there’s the shock that it will alter the rest of your life, said Holliday, who sang about love, faith and not giving up.

“But I have new dreams now,” said Holliday who moved from New York to Atlanta to reduce her stress, changed her diet, lost more than 200 pounds and changed her attitude to be more positive, filled with hope, love and faith.

“I had to re-invent myself and not let the illness control my life,” Holliday said. “Sometimes you have to calm down and center yourself and not panic so much.”

Instead of performing on Broadway, she has a new CD out. She also takes on speaking engagements, which include her singing, and she even performed in “Dreamgirls” last year at the outdoor theater in St. Louis.

“They were willing to take a chance on me,” she said. “I needed to take a chance on me.”

People with chronic illnesses have to know they did nothing wrong to cause it, said Holliday, who also suffers clinical depression.

“Bad things happen to good people,” she said. “Don’t give up on yourself.

“God’s love has been my greatest source of inspiration in my times of trouble. It’s how I move forward. I just want people to have hope and to be inspired, just to do better and be better.”

Holliday encouraged people to take responsibility for their own lives and shed the blame, pain and panic. Individuals with MS and other chronic diseases have “to live life and not just exist.”