By Kristin Alexander
Will Willis and Randy Gilbert live by the same values. Connected by their pledge to serve God and the community, the men recently organized a blood drive sponsored by the Tacoma chapter of the National Pan-Hellenic Council.
“Randy served 31 years in the Army and I served 30 years in the Air Force. When you come out of those two institutions, serving is in your blood – it’s ingrained,” said Will, a board member for the Red Cross South Puget Sound chapter. “This blood drive is another platform where we can serve a bigger community, because I don’t really know where the blood is going other than it’s going to go in somebody’s arm who needs it at a time when it’s critically lifesaving.”
The Red Cross is preparing to launch an initiative to ensure a more ethnically diverse blood supply. Outreach to diverse communities is crucial to that effort. Eighty percent of donors at the Tacoma drive were African-American. In comparison, Black donors make up less than 4% of Red Cross donors overall.
Randy and Will, who both donated and volunteered at the Saturday drive, said 31 units of blood were collected. That equates to 93 lives saved.
The Tacoma drive came together after Will arranged a meeting with Randy, president of the National Pan-Hellenic Council’s local chapter, Randy subsequently invited the Red Cross to present in front of the entire chapter, which enthusiastically got on board. Allen AME Church provided the venue.
Also known as the Divine Nine, the National Pan-Hellenic Council is made up of the nine historically Black fraternities and sororities: Alpha Kappa Alpha Inc., Alpha Phi Alpha Inc., Kappa Alpha Psi Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Inc., Omega Psi Phi Inc., Phi Beta Sigma Inc., Zeta Phi Beta Inc., Sigma Gamma Rho Inc. and Iota Phi Theta Inc.
“These organizations, some of which are over 100 years old, have contributed countless hours of service, scholarships, and leadership to communities all around the world,” report several educational sites, including this one. “Though they all differ in their founding principles in one way or another, they all come together as a unified body to create social change and leave the world a better place.”
Randy is a member of Omega Psi Phi Inc. He joined the fraternity while attending Webster University. Will earned his degree at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Hawaii. He joined Kappa Alpha Psi Inc., after college through Seattle’s graduate chapter.
Both have roles in the clergy; Randy is a chaplain and Will is an ordained minister and elder.
“We’ve been serving since we were in the military and now we are in fraternities, which continue to preserve the community. And the Bible says we’re to serve, not to be served. So we have to continue to do what we can so there’ll be a better world,” Randy said.
Will’s first interaction with the Red Cross came during his military career. While stationed in Japan, he received a message from the Red Cross that a family member back in the U.S. had passed away.
“Without Red Cross Emergency Communications, it’s more difficult to start moving out members of the military and get them home,” he said.
As a member of the Air Force Transportation Unit, Will provided disaster relief to areas struck by hurricanes. During a deployment to Roosevelt Roads Naval Air Station in Puerto Rico, he worked side by side with the Red Cross.
“Red Cross was right there with us, serving the community. The organization paid for all our meals and contracted with Burger King because the whole island was without power,” he remembers.
Will decided to start contributing financially to the Red Cross. He said he was already sold on the organization when Dan Wirth, executive director of the Red Cross South Puget Sound chapter, approached him about being on the board.
The Tacoma chapter of the Divine Nine is planning to host another Red Cross blood drive this fall.
“Donating blood is a way of giving back and it doesn’t cost much to give up a Saturday,” Will said. “Randy and I, we’re all in. We’re trying to let the community know there are some organizations out there that have no hidden agenda. We just want to serve.”
“We’re in this for God, family and friendship,” Randy said.