Glenn Sessoms (second from the left), social action chairman for the Memphis-area chapters of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., and his fraternity brothers stand blood-drive ready. (Courtesy photo)

The men of Omega Psi Phi, Inc., in the Fifth District, will mark their Annual Achievement Week with the first annual district-wide blood drive on Thursday Nov. 14.

“Locally, we have one or two blood drives a year, but this is our very first district effort,” said Glenn Sessoms, social action chairman for Memphis-area chapters. “We’ve been sponsoring blood drives for more than 30 years. This is a great opportunity for our city to show who we really are.”

Thursday’s blood drive will happen across multiple cities in Tennessee and Kentucky. In Memphis, local Omega chapters will sponsor the event at the University of Memphis in the University Center Ballroom. The address is 499 University Place and the drive is from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

“Some of the most caring and generous people live right here in Memphis,” Sessoms added. “Thursday, we want to show up as a city and prove how much we care.”

During Achievement Week, the fraternity recognizes past and present members who make contributions to “community uplift.” But the blood drive has special significance for Omega brothers.

The Brother Dr. Charles R. Drew Blood Drive is now a mandated program of the fraternity. Drew, an Omega member, was an African-American surgeon who pioneered methods of storing blood plasma for transfusion by organizing the first large-scale blood bank in the United States.

“That’s right. Dr. Drew was an Omega man,” said newly-elected Basileus Irvin Todd. “The Fifth District includes more than 40 chapters. We want the Memphis brothers to log in the highest amount of blood.”

Todd is challenging not just his brothers but the entire community to donate.

“Unfortunately traditions and misinformation have been passed down through the generations,” Todd said. “If you hurt, don’t cry. Don’t go to the doctor. Don’t give blood. There are stigmas that persist regarding medicine, even resulting from the Tuskegee Experiment and passed down.

“We are some of the highest users of blood, but among the least (generous) blood donors,” Todd said.

Those unable to come during the drive can still donate, said Sessoms.

“From Thursday through Saturday, anyone can still donate to our blood drive during normal operating hours at one of the four blood banks in the Greater Memphis area,” he said. “In the comments section of their paperwork, just write ‘Omega Psi Phi,’ and their blood donation will be counted in our drive.”

Sessoms said donors with blood types “O” and “B” are particularly sought out because those blood types are helpful in treating sickle cell anemia.

“Blood transfusions and bone marrow transplants are the only effective course of treatment for sickle cell, a largely African-American disease, that presently affects more than 100,000 people in America,” he said.

The local Omega chapters include undergraduate chapters at LeMoyne-Owen College and the University of Memphis, as well as the graduate chapters in Memphis and Cordova.

Dr. Charles Drew saved countless lives by creating the first bloodmobiles – trucks outfitted with refrigerators where blood could be stored. The needed blood could be transported for long distances, and blood donations could be collected and stored within a wider range of distance from city to city.

The blood drive represents a way to pay tribute to Drew’s innovations, Todd said.

“Not all great men are Omegas, but all Omegas are great men,” he said. “This Thursday, we can all be great men and women by donating blood to save lives.”