Honoring Black History Month

During the month of February, we celebrate Black History Month. African Americans have a long, distinguished history in the American Red Cross.

Gwendolyn T. Jackson was the first African American to be appointed national chairman of volunteers for the Red Cross. When Mrs. Jackson assumed her appointment in l989, significant changes were occurring in the world of volunteerism. Between l981 and 1985, there was a 19 percent decrease in volunteering among singles. To respond to these and other changes in volunteerism, Mrs. Jackson implemented the Volunteer 2000 Study, which provided a blueprint for future growth.

Dr. Charles Drew (pictured above), an African American blood specialist, surgeon, educator and scientist, was the director of the first American Red Cross blood bank. In early 1940, when England faced possible invasion, it was realized that lifesaving blood might be needed on a massive scale by both the civilian population and the military forces in Britain. A project to collect blood for shipment to the British Isles was created, and the man chosen as medical director was Charles Drew. Little known at the time, he was soon to be recognized as one of the nation’s foremost physicians and as a pioneer in blood collection and plasma processing. Today’s American Red Cross blood services are the result of his innovative work and dedication.

Transfusions from blood donors of the same ethnic background have less chance of causing complications for the recipients. Sickle cell anemia, for instance, affects more than 70,000 people in the United States, most of them African American. Many African Americans have rare blood types, such as U-negative and Duffy-negative, that are unique to the African American community. Many patients need blood transfusions every few weeks to help keep the effects of disease at bay.

You can honor Dr. Charles Drew and and his important contributions to blood banking by scheduling an appointment to donate blood. Call 1-800-RED CROSS or visit redcrossblood.org