From battle of the bands, battle of the choirs, step shows to athletic games, HBCUs (historically Black colleges and universities) have a long history of bringing together students, alumni and community members in the spirit of competition. Yet, among the fanfare of historic rivalries lies a legacy of collaboration and philanthropy that helps to strengthen communities and shape the social impact of its future leaders – like the annual Magic City Classic Blood Drive.
Since 2017, the Alabama A&M University Bulldogs and Alabama State University Hornets have teamed up with the American Red Cross to kick off their historic rivalry to see who can recruit the most blood donors ahead of the annual Magic City Classic football game at Legion Field in Birmingham, AL.
This year, Alabama State earned major bragging rights after collecting nearly 160 blood donations for patients in need, exceeding Alabama A&M which collected nearly 120 blood donations.
However, Red Cross Alabama-Mississippi Region organizers note that Alabama A&M more than doubled the number of donations they collected last year. And, through the efforts of both universities, this year’s blood drive goal was exceeded by nearly 140 donations and was comprised of over 200 first-time blood donors – an overall incredible and historic feat!
Service is Sovereignty
Partnerships and collaborations with organizations like the Red Cross have been a part of the core values of HBCUs for many years. Educational institutions like Alabama A&M and Alabama State use things like hosting campus blood drives as opportunities to contribute to the development of their students while making a broader community impact.
For some upper classmen and graduate students, campus blood drives serve as an opportunity to continue a tradition they started in high school or as an undergrad.
“I always want to give back,” said Jeremy Daniel, a junior majoring in Computer Science at Alabama State University. “I gave my first blood donation in high school at 16 years old and have continued to give ever since. If it’s no detriment to giving blood, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be out here giving.”
For many students who attended high school remotely during the pandemic, campus blood drives like the Magic City Classic Blood Drive offer a convenient opportunity to give blood for the first time, and to do so with friends.
“I just wanted to help others,” said first-time donor Kamariya McDonald, a sophomore majoring in business management at Alabama A&M University. “It makes me feel good to be able to help someone in need and know that my blood donation can ‘start here and go anywhere’.”
Lifting as We Climb
To date, the Magic City Classic Blood Drive has collected more than 975 units of lifesaving blood for patients. (A blood drive was not held in October 2020 due to COVID restrictions on campus activities and events.) Yet, the philanthropic legacies of students promoting blood donation at Alabama A&M and Alabama State began years before the first Magic City Classic Blood Drive.
Since the early 2000s, student organizations, athletic programs and undergraduate membership organizations of the National Pan-Hellenic Council have hosted Red Cross blood drives on each of their campuses, resulting in over 2,225 blood donations collected to date (including units collected at Magic City Classic Blood Drives).
“HBCUs have long served as incubators of excellence, with a culture of school spirit and healthy competition that makes positive impacts in our communities,” said Dr. Yvette Miller, executive medical officer for the American Red Cross. “Blood drives like the Magic City Classic encourage a collaborative spirit that serve students in their collegiate and future professional endeavors, while also serving a patient population that depends on chronic blood transfusions today.”
Blood donations from the Magic City Classic Blood Drive come as the Red Cross has an urgent need for eligible donors of all blood types, especially those with Type O blood. African Americans make up 51% of individuals with Type O blood. Therefore, the impact of this blood drive on accident and burn victims, heart surgery patients, organ transplant patients, and those receiving treatment for leukemia, cancer or sickle cell disease is tremendous.
“I have some family members who have sickle cell, so it feels good to know that I’m giving back to a good cause,” said Jada Farr, a graduate student majoring in clinical health counseling at Alabama State University and who made her first Power Red donation at this year’s blood drive.
People with sickle cell disease – most of whom are of African descent – often rely upon frequent blood transfusions to prevent life-threatening complications and manage extreme pain. People who have sickle cell disease often receive the most compatible blood from donors in the Black community as blood donors who are Black are almost 3 times more likely to be a match, compared with donors who are not Black or African American.
“Think about all the lives you could possibly be saving by donating blood,” added Farr who has been an avid whole blood donor since her undergrad days.
Leaders Saving Lives
Four students enrolled in the Red Cross HBCU Ambassador Leadership Program, sponsored by Delta Airlines, are also being credited for helping to add a little “magic” to the rivalry blood drive by raising awareness about the need for blood and recruiting students, faculty and campus organizations to participate.
“The Red Cross HBCU Ambassador Leadership Program is an exceptional initiative that allows students at HBCUs the opportunity to receive scholarships, mentoring, hands-on training and professional development while encouraging them to be change makers on their campuses and communities by helping ensure a strong and diverse blood supply,” said Micah Hollimon, executive director of the Red Cross HBCU Ambassador Leadership Program and Red Cross director of partner relations.
Alexis Powell, a junior at Alabama A&M majoring in Biology (pre-med), Taniya Rainge, a senior at Alabama A&M double majoring in Biology and Computer Science, Alvin Jacobs, a junior at Alabama State majoring in Finance and Karsten Threatt, a senior linebacker on the Alabama State football team, majoring in physical education – all helped their campuses gear up for the two-day competition by encouraging their peers, faculty, staff and local community to schedule an appointment to give blood in support of patients with sickle cell disease.
“I wish people knew the pain that patients with sickle cell disease have to endure every single day, and that one blood donation can help save their lives,” said Karsten Threat. “Many say they’re afraid of needles but for a patient with sickle cell who suffers with pain every day, a quick pinch is worth it.”
“Dr. Charles R. Drew really compelled me to want to save more lives and to continue to contribute to something he prided himself in,” said Alvin Jacobs, who made his first blood donation at an Alabama State University blood drive last Spring. “I also wanted to do something impactful for others by becoming a Red Cross HBCU Ambassador.”
A Promise to Give Back
These four Red Cross HBCU Ambassadors are learning how to lead blood drive planning efforts by securing additional incentives such as food and entertainment, collaborating with student organizations, raising awareness about blood donation and sickle cell disease all while prioritizing a goal to increase blood donations to help patients.
“Knowing that I can do my part to raise more awareness about the importance of blood donation is what compelled me to become a Red Cross HBCU Ambassador,” said Alexis Powell, a fifth generation Alabama A&M student from Birmingham who spent much of her childhood visiting the campus. “I think some students are afraid to give blood because they are not familiar with the cause. I wish more people knew that one blood donation can help save up to three lives…and make someone’s life a little easier.”
Carlandra “DJ Landy” Harris, a sophomore majoring in biomedical engineering at Alabama State, entertained presenting blood donors and volunteers with live music mixes at her campus blood drive and echoes the sentiments of the HBCU Ambassadors.
“It’s important to donate blood,” said Harris. “You may be healthy, but someone may not be as healthy. So do it for a good cause and give back by giving blood. You will produce some more red blood cells.”
Irregardless of which school wins the Magic City Classic Blood Drive or the game, what is of most value to these students is the collaborative impact.
“I enjoy the excitement surrounding the game and the game itself, [but] the most rewarding part of being an ambassador is once we finish hosting our blood drive, we receive a report informing us of how much blood was collected and how it’s going to positively affect peoples’ lives,” said Taniya Rainge, who made her first blood donation at last year’s Magic City Classic Blood Drive.
Considering the record-breaking number of presenting blood donors and blood donations collected at this year’s Magic City Classic Blood Drive, Rainge and her fellow HBCU ambassadors can celebrate the magical impact both universities have made on the lives of hospital patients this fall.
Joined by Blood
The Magic City Classic Blood Drive is part of Joined by Blood, a fall activation of the Red Cross Sickle Cell Initiative, representing the powerful connection between blood donors and patients. To help ensure patients have the blood products they need, the Red Cross is teaming up with partners in the Black community — such as HBCUs, 100 Black Men of America, Inc., Kier’s Hope Foundation, Inc. and others — to host blood drives and rally blood donors who are Black to support the blood transfusion needs of patients with sickle cell.
To schedule an appointment to give blood, visit RedCrossBlood.org/OurBlood or call 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767).