By: Candace Brand, Communications Volunteer
The American Red Cross has a new Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Ambassador and she’s ready to make an impact. Naudiea Newman, a junior at Savannah State University, recently underwent in-depth training in Atlanta in preparation for her leadership role back on the Savannah campus. Newman is majoring in Computer Information Systems with a concentration in Data Analytics. She reflected on her childhood, fondly describing her grandfather’s love of technology and remembers always being curious to see what he was working on. She went on to describe a volunteer computer helper role she favored in elementary school, often filling the position simply to have more exposure to technology.
Fast-forward to her college years, Newman finds herself faced with several emails from her school about the Red Cross HBCU Ambassador Program and another spark ignites. Another memory from her childhood surfaces.
“I remember growing up hearing stories about people with sickle cell that had reactions and suddenly had to pause their lives because they were in the hospital for days getting medical treatment,” said Newman.
Sickle cell disease is a common, inherited red blood cell disorder affecting 1 out of every 365 Black or African American births. Individuals with the disorder can suffer various conditions throughout their lives and require up to 100 pints of blood in one year alone. Blood transfusions help provide a lifesaving treatment during a sickle cell pain crisis by replacing sickled red blood cells with healthy red blood cells. Unfortunately, frequent transfusions can make finding compatible blood types more difficult. Since one in three African American blood donors are a match for people with sickle cell disease, the American Red Cross is working with partners in the Black community to grow the number of blood donors who are Black.
During her intense training in Atlanta, Newman had the opportunity to hear stories directly from the parents of children suffering from sickle cell disease and what they go through every day. “The stories made it real. It made me want to help them.” She passionately described this time as the most valuable experience and claimed it made her truly want to understand the importance of educating others on the disease, getting checked for the trait, and donating blood.
The purpose of the HBCU Ambassador Program is to guide young leaders in educating and inspiring their community and peers to donate blood, especially in areas of high demand and low donations. As Newman noted, “A lot of teenagers like to donate blood but seem to stop when they get to their college years”.
The HBCU program is a way to increase lifesaving blood donations from college students by having a fellow college peer talk to potential donors about the importance of donating. Newman continued to explain the benefits of the program, “We can communicate with them what iron-rich foods to eat before a blood drive and how to prepare themselves properly, such as hydrating and avoiding caffeine beforehand.” She suggests that donors take the time to prepare physically and mentally. For those afraid of needles, tell a friend about the event and come together for support. Newman excitedly pushed on to demonstrate the incredible need for diverse blood donations because of specific antigens in our blood.
“Especially in someone with sickle cell. It’s so important to match their blood type as closely as possible,” said Newman. “As African Americans are most likely to be diagnosed with sickle cell, there needs to be more African Americans donating blood to find the best match.”
Newman is hoping to use her leadership training to bring awareness to the campus and the community about sickle cell disease and the importance of donating. She bravely challenges her peers, “I know a lot of people don’t donate blood and have their reasons why, but what if I can provide you with the reasons why you should?”
Excited to start making an impact, she has her first blood drive on campus on September 14th, 2023.
If you or someone you know is interested in making an impact in your community through the HBCU Ambassador program, visit the website here.