In the Burroughs | Children's Minnesota | The Kid Experts

The irony of Black blood donation

I’m going to start with the bottom line: We need more Black blood donors.  

While 13% of Americans are Black, only 3% of American Red Cross blood donors are African American.  

Blood from Black donors has specific properties that make it a better match for Black people who need transfusions, like people with sickle cell disease.  

But before we get to what the Red Cross is doing to boost the numbers of Black blood donors in the Twin Cities and how you can help, we’re going to take a quick detour. 

Why do you suppose the number of Black blood donors is low?

In 1941, when World War II had just broken out and our country was desperately stocking up on blood for wounded soldiers, Black donors were turned away.  

In 1942, the Red Cross started accepting Black donors, but it segregated blood by race. The Red Cross recounts this history on its website and acknowledges the pain and mistrust it caused. 

Here’s the most ironic part of all: The “father” of the blood bank, the man who figured out how to store and deliver blood so it could save thousands of lives during World War II, he was an African American man named Dr. Charles Drew. Dr. Drew, my Omega Psi Phi Fraternity brother, spoke forcefully against the separation of blood by race. There was no scientific reason for it. Drew called it an insult to Black people who wanted to help the war effort as much as anybody else.  

Dr. Charles Drew
Dr. Charles Drew

That’s part of the back story. It helps shed light on why we find ourselves where we are today: with rampant health disparities, including a lower rate of Black blood donors.  

So, what are we going to do about it? We must rebuild trust and partner with the Black community. We must partner with the Black churches. We must partner with Black fraternities and sororities and Black-led organizations like the Monitors, the Boule, the Links, Jack and Jill and others. 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Dr. David Hamlar, Lindsay L. Benjamin and I discuss the issues of partnership and building trust and the solutions in the video below.

There’s an urgent need for blood donations right now. If you’re in a position to help, please do! Learn more at 

Dr. Charles Drew with medical residents
Dr. Charles Drew with medical residents

Watch the video

James Burroughs

James Burroughs
Senior vice president, government and community relations, chief equity and inclusion officer

James Burroughs is the senior vice president, government and community relations, chief equity and inclusion officer at Children's Minnesota. He is responsible for advancing equity and inclusion in all parts of the organization.
Follow James on Twitter and LinkedIn.