February is Black History Month — a time to honor the significant achievements of Black Americans. With the theme “Black Excellence Is in Our Blood,” the American Red Cross commemorates the vibrant legacies of history makers whose contributions continue to advance our communities and lifesaving mission – like Kenya Buckley.
Standing on her mother’s legacy, Kenya is blazing a trail for other families enduring the unexpected twist and turns of sickle cell disease. As the founder of Carol’s Promise Sickle Cell Foundation – an organization named in honor of her mother, Kenya is driven to increase the quality of life for those living with sickle cell disease despite it being a chronic illness with limited resources and awareness. Engaging members of the Black community, Carol’s Promise partners with the Red Cross to host blood drives to help ensure patients with sickle cell and other conditions have the blood products they need.
Advocate of Change
Growing up, Kenya did not understand the blood disease that plagued her mother, Carol. She did not know the words ‘sickle cell disease,’ but she knew her mother was always sick and there was no widely available cure.
"I was ashamed that I didn't do more research to help my mom,” said Kenya. “I didn't fully understand the disease to support her better. A lot of people have heard about it [sickle cell], but don't really know what it is. If people knew about it, they would definitely give more [blood donations]."
Sickle cell disease is the most common genetic blood disorder in the U.S., and regular blood transfusions are critical to manage extreme pain and life-threatening complications.
Kenya, a first-generation college student, volunteered during her time in school with an organization supporting breast cancer. She wondered why similar resources weren't available for sickle cell disease. It was then the idea was birthed to start her own foundation to support those living with sickle cell.
"When I shared the idea with my mother, she told me I was going to find a [widely-available] cure for sickle cell,” said Kenya.
In 2005, two weeks after her college graduation, Kenya's mother passed away from complications of sickle cell disease. Kenya was devastated.
Keeper of the Promise
Amid her grief, Kenya began research into sickle cell disease, nonprofits, and organizations that could help her learn more about the genetic blood disorder. She was laser focused on starting an organization and launched Carol’s Promise Sickle Cell Foundation in 2017 to uphold the promise she made to her mother to advocate on her behalf. In addition, Kenya also honors her mother as a dedicated blood donor— already achieving her gallon donation milestone.
In November 2017, her foundation hosted its first blood drive and has continued to ever since, hosting drives twice a year. Recently, the organization hosted a blood drive during Sickle Cell Awareness Month and collected nearly two dozen units. The effort was part of Joined by Blood, a fall-focused component of the Red Cross Sickle Cell Initiative to help increase the number of blood donors who are Black to support the blood transfusion needs of patients with sickle cell.
“My mom always encouraged me to donate blood and to be an organ donor,” said Kenya. “She would always say ‘don’t take for granted what others hold so dear’. I’m proud that I donate blood regularly . . . to me, I’m just living out her dreams for me and living her legacy.”
Annually, patients with sickle cell can need as many as 100 units of blood. Frequent transfusions can make finding compatible blood types more difficult when patients develop an immune response against blood from donors that is not closely matched to the blood of the recipient. However, 1 in 3 African American blood donors are a match for people with sickle cell disease.
"One of the things that I love about the Red Cross [is] anytime you give blood [for the first time] at one of our blood drives, you're automatically tested for sickle cell trait," said Kenya.
It’s estimated 1 in 13 Black or African American babies in the U.S. is born with sickle cell trait but many individuals are unaware if they carry this trait because they were never tested and newborn screenings for sickle cell trait was not widely performed until 2006. As part of its Sickle Cell Initiative, the Red Cross is providing sickle cell trait screening on all blood donations from self-identified African American donors.
Blazer of Trails
In addition to hosting blood drives and providing first-time African Americans donors with free sickle cell trait screening through the Red Cross, Carol’s Promise also partners with local hospitals and organizations in Fort Worth, TX to provide advocacy and support services. Often, Kenya and her foundation are the first point of contact for parents in need of support when finding out their child has sickle cell disease.
"If the screening comes back that they have sickle cell, most of the time the parents are distraught, and we come in and provide them with the facts,” said Kenya. “We tell them what to expect while assuring them that sickle cell is not a death sentence. There are folks who are thriving and living their life."
As someone who stands firmly on the shoulders of a mother who turned her pain into purpose, Kenya is continuing this legacy of excellence by spearheading community initiatives that engage others in empowering the sickle cell community and ensuring blood is readily available to help those fighting to prosper through the pain.
Black Excellence is In Our Blood
Join Kenya in the fight to help patients who have sickle cell disease and other needs by rolling up a sleeve to give blood during Black History Month. To those who may be hesitant to give blood, Kenya offers, “Let me hold your hand and let’s go save some lives together!” Use the Red Cross Blood DonorApp, visit RedCrossBlood.org/OurBlood or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) to schedule an appointment today.
Those who come to give blood, platelets or plasma Feb. 1-28, 2023, will receive a $10 Amazon.com Gift Card by email, thanks to our partners at Amazon. Join us in elevating Black Excellence this month: Discover and support Black-owned businesses on Amazon! Additionally, those who come to give Feb. 1-28, 2023, will be automatically entered for a chance to win a three-night trip to Clearwater Beach, Florida.
Terms apply for both offers. Visit rcblood.org/heart for details.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides comfort to victims of disasters; supplies about 40% of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; distributes international humanitarian aid; and supports veterans, military members and their families. The Red Cross is a nonprofit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to deliver its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.
Find a drive and schedule a blood donation appointment today.