Celebrate Father’s Day & Juneteenth with a Lifesaving Conversation

June 18, 2024

I’m a product of a not-very religious African American family with roots in Detroit and the deep south of Mississippi. When I was growing up, neither of my parents were proponents of organ donation, having been born in the 1930s in a country with a well-documented, painful history regarding the widespread, unethical provision of health care to people of color. My late father is probably rolling over in his urn at the thought of his youngest son working in the transplantation industry. My 85-year-old mother still doesn’t know about her youngest son’s new gig with Sierra Donor Services. Quite simply, I just haven’t been up to having that conversation with her, yet!

Coming from a family that was rooted and grounded in medical industry distrust, I recently got all my notes together and ducks in a row before sitting down with my two adult daughters, separately, to ask them whether they would consider registering as organ donors. With over 79% of the people in California awaiting a potentially life-saving organ being people of color, and only half of California residents being registered to donate, I needed to make sure that my girls, at least, knew of the need and had given donor registration some thought.

During both conversations, my girls politely let me finish my pitch before telling me that they had been registered as organ donors since they were 16-years-old and got their first driver’s licenses.

As proud as I was about that, I had to ask each of them why they hadn’t shared that great news with me. By the time you read this, both of my girls will be in their 30s, so it’s been a while since they got those first pink dots on their driver’s licenses. I wondered why they’d kept the news from me for so long.

Their separately delivered answers to my question were almost identical, word for word, and reminded me of a critical problem within many families of color, around organ and tissue donation: “Dad, we didn’t tell you because we assumed you didn’t support organ donation, just like Grandpa.”

As we celebrate Juneteenth, Father’s Day and my “little one” Kristina’s 30th birthday, the lesson is simple: talk to your family about organ and tissue donation. Let everyone who’s still here know where you’re at. Had a tragedy separated me and my daughters before we’d talked about it, the survivors wouldn’t have known that we’re all on the same page, ready and willing to give the gift of life to someone else after we won’t need those lungs, those kidneys, that pancreas, that liver, or that heart any more.

I ask you to embrace that lesson with your own family, and that you’ll help us spread the word about the vital need for an increase in organ and tissue donors.  Over the last few months, I’ve met dozens of African American organ recipients and members of donor families who’ve affirmed my decision to join the Sierra Donor Services family.

Members of another family, with a loved one on dialysis, perhaps, are waiting to hear that someone cared enough to give the gift of life.

Happy Father’s Day and Juneteenth!

About the Author

Michael Coleman is the External Affairs Director at Sierra Donor Services (SDS), having joined the organization in early 2024. He is a serial extrovert who brings over 30 years of experience in communications, content creation (on broadcast, print, and digital platforms), fund development, public relations, and project management to SDS. Michael leads the team that is laser-focused on increasing the number of registered organ, eye, and tissue donors in SDS’ service area, and ultimately eliminating the organ transplant list, via community engagement.

Michael has earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communications with High Honors and Distinction from the University of Michigan. He consults with and supports the work of non-profits in northern California and across the country. He is also an OG: an Original Girl Dad, the proud father of two beautiful, brilliant adult daughters.

About Sierra Donor Services

Sierra Donor Services (SDS) serves nearly three million people in Northern California and Northern Nevada. We are an exceptional team of professionals dedicated to saving and improving lives by connecting organ and tissue donation to the patients who need them. We strive to extend the reach of each generous donor’s gift to those who are always profoundly grateful for them.

#BeTheGift that saves lives!

When you register as an organ, eye and tissue donor, you leave a lasting legacy and bring hope to those waiting.

To access the National Registry, click here.