By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Growing up, Tyrone Miller recalled how involved his parents were when it came to blood drives. They would help arrange drives, advocate for sickle cell awareness and more, he said. It was always pressed upon Miller how important it was to give blood.
These days, Miller is continuing his parent’s legacy of advocacy work.
Miller, who’s stage name is DJ Bizzon, will be hosting and DJing the “Music for Life Blood Drive” along with Milwaukee-based artists B~Free and Webster X. The blood drive will take place at Nō Studios, 1037 W. McKinley Ave., from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 20.
Tonnie Boston, the senior manager of community relations and advocacy for Versiti Blood Center of Wisconsin, noted that blood donations tend to be lower during the summer months and holiday season. With everything going on, keeping or making a blood appointment goes to the bottom of the list, Boston said.
The drive hopes to receive blood from at least 40 to 50 donors. So far, 20 individuals have signed up to donate blood as of Tuesday, Nov. 16.
Veristi is hoping that the involvement of Milwaukee-based artists will encourage young people to get involved.
“This will be our first blood drive where we’re actually in partnership with our music ambassadors,” Boston said, adding that it will be an experience.
The center’s partnership with the three musicians began this summer when Versiti launched its pilot ambassador program. Music moves people, Boston said, and the belief is that artists move people as well and can influence their network to think about their health and donating blood.
Miller, who began DJing in 2008, turned to livestreaming during the pandemic. Versiti has sponsored some of his livestreams and provided him with additional educational material to share with his audience.
When he first started making music, his intention wasn’t to be advocate for blood donations, rather, his goal was to share the ideas he had playing around in his head. When he started garnering a following, he realized he could use his platform as a form of advocacy work.
Music helps reach people, he said, and as a musician Miller has built a community based on trust. Music is the connector that can help build a community that in turn strives toward a shared goal, he explained.
Part of Miller’s approach when it comes to talking about being a blood donor is sharing his own experiences. For him, donating blood has been a regular part of his life since he was old enough to do it, but he recognizes that not everyone shares that experience.
“I remember as a kid in high school having blood drives set up,” Miller said. “It was easy like that. It was a regular thing to donate blood.”
Later, when he worked for GE, Miller donated blood during the company’s blood drives.
“It’s really simple,” Miller said. “I think sometimes people don’t realize how easy it is to save someone’s life.”
Miller takes the time to explain the quick and simple process which involves answering some basic questions, having a needle inserted and then hanging out. There are also great snacks involved, he said, and blankets in case donors get cold.
He added, “I understand the hesitancy because from what I hear, people don’t understand the process.”
It takes 30 minutes to an hour to save someone’s life, Miller said, adding that the needle is barely felt.
Boston noted that most people are familiar with the concept of giving blood, but many don’t think about it beyond high school. People know it’s important, but they don’t know why, she said.
Blood donations are used in emergency, essential and elective surgeries, Boston said, and right now only 5% of U.S. citizens give blood.
In addition to the general need for more blood donors, Versiti is hoping that more Black and brown people will become regular donors.
Boston explained that 1 in every 365 African Americans is born with sickle cell disease. Individuals with sickle cell disease must undergo regular blood transfusions. Furthermore, about half of the individuals with sickle cell disease also have a rare blood subtype known as Ro.
The Ro subtype is most common in African American and Hispanic communities. About 44% of all Black people have the Ro blood type, Boston said, however, only about 4% of Versiti donors have Ro.
Boston, who has the Ro blood type herself, said a donor’s blood is automatically tested for Ro. If an individual has Ro, Versiti makes a point to notify and educate people on the importance of giving blood.
Blood can’t be manufactured, Miller said, and blood donations are needed from the African American community. The blood drive is open to the public, he said. To donate blood, individuals must be 17 or older and in good health. Appointments are encouraged, but walk-ins are welcome.
“When you say you’re saving lives, it’s for real,” Miller said. “We’re not being hyperbolic.”
To make an appointment call 877-232-4376 or visit this link https://donate.wisconsin.versiti.org/donor/schedules/drive_schedule/252162.