What would Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. say about DKMS in 2020

January 22

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is remembered because he analyzed and boldly confronted the status quo, and he did so with a strong sense of dignity. Because of his voice, our system of law more equally acknowledges the rights of all citizens. American society has experienced progress but not achieved perfection, and to truly honor Dr. King’s life work is to continually question the shortcomings of how we collectively live, recognizing that our findings might require us to act with courage.

I believe we all have an ongoing duty to address the underlying implications of discrimination that have left some communities with less access to vital components of well-being — education, healthcare, livable housing conditions, opportunity without hurdles of stereotype, or even quality food sources — than others. Every person or entity has power to challenge this reality within their unique intersection of talents, resources, personality, and context. Given that DKMS’ ability to match people with bone marrow and stem cell donors depends on factors of ethnicity, diversity in our donor database is particularly relevant in our context. Celebration of diversity has always been personally meaningful, and I’ve spent the past few months considering with fellow leadership its particular necessity to DKMS’ mission and how we operate. In remembrance of Dr. King’s legacy, I’d like to share the realities we are confronting and how that determines our organizational goals for 2020.

DKMS has a responsibility to provide everyone diagnosed with blood cancer with a chance at finding a compatible match from a donor who is able and available to donate lifesaving stem cells or bone marrow. As stated by our mission, “DKMS is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to the fight against blood cancer and blood disorders by: creating awareness, recruiting bone marrow donors to provide a second chance at life, raising funds to match donor registration costs, supporting the improvement of therapies through research, and supporting patients from day one of their diagnoses.”

Our mission calls us to support all people with blood disorders, but our data shows that the number of collections (the process by which bone marrow or stem cells are procedurally collected for the patient) from Caucasian populations far outweighs that of Hispanic, African American, and other minority populations. This is due to the fact that more Caucasians are registered in our donor database, and therefore able to follow through with donation if matched with a blood cancer patient. We are committed to expanding our communication and donor recruitment efforts to more effectively reach these underrepresented communities, and fortifying our teams that work with donors to better support these communities during the donation process.

In considering solutions to the collections gap between Caucasian and underrepresented populations, we are taking a critical look at the nature of (and results yielded by) our efforts. Internally, a crucial departmental interdependence has been exposed. Collaboration between departments reflects the values of coexistence and teamwork that Dr. King embodied in the Civil Rights Movement, and I believe that harmonizing of the resources and skillsets of our teams will initiate fruitful change at DKMS.

“The ultimate measure of man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Dr. King’s words and actions are an ever-important challenge to sharpen our organizational intentions for all communities to be involved in our lifesaving work, for all people to have a chance to be a hero, and for all blood cancer patients to have an equal chance to find a match and to find hope.