Even up until his death, Rex Crawley, PhD., made it his mission to try to save lives through his project to shed light on the need for African-American bone marrow donors and the need for African-Americans to get registered.
Crawley, the former assistant dean and a professor at Robert Morris University’s School of Communications and Information Systems, and co-director of the Black Male Leadership Development Institute (BMDI), died Nov. 25 after a long battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He too was waiting for a match.
In an interview with the New Pittsburgh Courier a month before his death, Crawley spoke about his mission and the urgency to get African-Americans involved. “I’m sitting here by the phone hoping I get a call saying, ‘we found a match for you.’ Unfortunately, there are hundreds of thousands out there whose lives also depend on it,” he said. “I’m hoping my story will enlighten the community because I am committed to increasing awareness of this issue. Even if we are unable to find a match for me, my concern is for the thousands of cancer patients that are living day-by-day and waiting for a match.”
Although his prayers weren’t answered, the brothers of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., of which Crawley was a member, and others are uniting to keep Crawley’s legacy going and continue his mission. On Feb. 12-15, the Kappas, along with other graduate and undergraduate Black Greek fraternities and sororities; Be The Match, the largest and most diverse national bone marrow registry, operated by the National Marrow Donor Program; UPMC; and Savoy, will partner for multiple bone marrow registry drives at several community locations and universities throughout the Greater Pittsburgh region.
“It’s not so much the Kappas, although I’m a Kappa and Rex is a Kappa, it has become far bigger than the Kappas. This is a whole community effort. To make this successful you need bodies and you need a large mass of people pushing to make this successful,” said Howard Russell, a dear friend of Crawley’s, and the president of the Kappa Scholarship Endowment Fund of Western Pa., managing partner of Opus
Acquisitions Group and managing director of Ferrum Capital Partners. “Rex and I probably spoke by phone, email or text every other day for a year and a half, two years, so I knew his passion was to save lives. During our last few conversations he was like, ‘I might not get a match in time, but I want to make certain other lives are saved.’ And that’s all I’m trying to do. When he re-entered the ICU, I realized he was very sick and said, ‘I’ll take over this.’ Rex’s last text to me before he died was ‘work it.’ I’ve tried to make certain that I take his dream and make it a reality.” And that’s what he is doing.
Daria Crawley, PhD, Crawley’s wife, said, “I’m overjoyed. This is something Rex knew about before he died and he was quite honored. At a time when he was at a physically weak moment, his brothers wrapped their arms around him and it still continues today. That’s what Kappa men do.” She said Crawley knew that he would not be able to find a match, but that he wanted those who were waiting or others in the future who may have a blood disease to have a chance.
According to the Be The Match website, of its potential adult donors, only 7 percent are African-American, compared to its 67 percent White and 10 percent Hispanic. And the likelihood of African-Americans having a donor on the Be The Match Registry is 66 percent, compared to 93 percent for Whites, 73 percent for Asians and 72 percent for Hispanics.
“We need to donate. We (African-Americans) are a helping community, whether through our churches, nonprofits, fraternities or sororities, or just shoveling snow for a neighbor. We might not know the person, but this is a way for us to donate and still help someone,” Daria Crawley said.
“There has to be a sense of urgency,” Russell said.
While the bone marrow donation process is more extensive than the registry’s process of a swab of the cheek, Russell said it is not painful, although there is some discomfort. “You read about people who’ve done it twice, outpatient, and gone back to work within days. Be The Match and doctors involved go through great lengths to make sure there are no health risks involved for the person giving and receiving. But the biggest thing is to register and that only takes a swab of the cheek.”
Candi Castleberry-Singleton, chief inclusion and diversity officer of the UPMC Center for Engagement and Inclusion, said, “Rex will be remembered for the positive impact he had on the Pittsburgh community. UPMC is proud to partner, in his name, with Kappa Alpha Psi and Be The Match to create awareness about this important issue. It is our goal that our collective efforts will help save lives and will continue for years to come.”
The three-day long event will include a Be The Match Donor Registry Drive Kickoff Reception at Savoy; registration drives at the University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University, the Community College of Allegheny County, California University of Pennsylvania, Slippery Rock University and Indiana University of Pennsylvania hosted by undergraduate students from several Black fraternities and sororities; registration drives at four community locations throughout Pittsburgh; and on Feb. 15 at the Fairmont Hotel, in downtown Pittsburgh, the 2014 Valentine’s Extravaganza, hosted by the Kappa Scholarship Endowment Fund of Western Pa. and the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., where there will be a showing of an 8-10 minute documentary on the life of Crawley, produced by award-winning producer Emmai Alaquiva. Russell said the documentary will then be used nationally by Be The Match to promote African-American bone marrow donor awareness.
There will also be a registration drive at Robert Morris University on Feb. 7 in conjunction with the university’s Rex Crawley Memorial Service to be held at 4 p.m. Reservations are requested, along with the wearing of bow ties as part of the attire.
When asked why African-Americans should get involved, Russell said, “Saving lives is the key. It’s all about saving lives. When you read articles about someone, like Rex Crawley, Sylvester Pace, Bernadette Turner, they were all waiting for a transplant. That’s why it’s important.”
He added, “ This will be an initial three-day event, but our goal is to hold an annual event where we’ll not only be pushing for bone marrow registration, but also for sickle cell blood donation and organ donation. We hope that it kicks off so well and garnishes so much support that nationally, other cities adopt this agenda; that our brothers and sisters adopt what we’re doing. It is such a far needed and far reaching quest.”
“Rex would be happy knowing his dream is being fulfilled. He’d be extremely pleased and satisfied that all the hard work and effort that he put out there to start this project did not go in vain,” Russell said.
While Crawley did not find his match and receive his healing on earth, Daria Crawley said her husband is receiving his cure and healing through the continuing of his work. “The dream doesn’t just die,” it lives on through others.
(For more information on bone marrow donation, visit www.bethematch.org.)
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