At two years old, my mother lost two sisters in a home fire. They were eight and four years old, and their names were Mary Sue and Gwen. The year was 1958 – many years before in-home smoke alarms were patented and made available, and many more years before rural communities like my mom’s hometown of Warrenton, North Carolina, would gain more access to these lifesavers.
The grief my family experienced has lived on – mostly through my grandmother until she died in 2019. I never knew my aunts, but I grew to know my Gram’s pain through the stories she told. The heartache of losing two of three children (while pregnant with another) was a shared sadness for all who loved her and my grandfather, and a catastrophic example of the impact of a home fire if you’re not well-prepared.
Four years before my grandmother’s passing, I joined the American Red Cross in my current role as Programs Manager in the Office of Diversity & Inclusion Services. I worked in the Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) space in corporate hospitality for several years prior, and while I’ll never know if my grandmother truly understood what I did for a living, she certainly knew our organization by name. It was my mother – now a retired U.S. Air Force veteran — who introduced the Red Cross to my grandmother in a letter she wrote while deployed in Korea.
“If you ever need to reach me in an emergency, please contact the American Red Cross.” My grandmother kept that letter, now tattered and faded, as if it were the lifeline she needed for a little peace of mind.
Reflecting on these stories and other moments in my personal life reminds me of the significant work we do here at the Red Cross every day – and the valuable role I’m honored to have in advancing the DEI objectives to serve all.
As a Red Crosser, I get to lean further into our organization’s commitment to do more – to be more – especially for underrepresented populations and in historically underserved communities that look like Warrenton and for families that look like mine. My greatest joy as a Red Crosser is knowing I have a valued voice here, that my cultural experiences are relevant to the work that I do and the programs we create to drive Red Cross mission delivery.
As a Black man, I recognize that my voice matters in action-planning and partnership toward ensuring our Home Fire Campaign reaches the most rural communities with smoke alarms and escape planning so that fewer families experience loss like my grandmother. I have a voice in our efforts to address unmet needs for patients who have sickle cell disease, most of whom are Black.
As a gay man, my voice matters as we advocate for a MSM policy change and participate in the ADVANCE Study that could lead to updates in FDA blood donor eligibility that currently prevents me from donating blood.
And finally, as a humanitarian, I get to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with my fellow Red Crossers who also believe that my life matters, that my blood matters, and that all communities deserve access to the resources made possible through the Red Cross mission.
While my grandmother may not have known exactly what I do in my career, I do know that she was immensely proud of me – of all of who I am – in my effort to alleviate for others the kind of human suffering she endured in her lifetime. And I couldn’t be more honored to do it.