By Je’Don Holloway Talley
The Birmingham Times
The Sickle Cell Foundation of Central Alabama held its 13th annual gala on Saturday, June 16, at the downtown Sheraton Hotel with Birmingham’s Rickey Smiley as the celebrity guest and co-host.
Smiley opened for the event and delivered a heartfelt message about the importance of the awareness gala.
As a person who has family members with sickle cell, Smiley said, “you’ve got to help people. You have to love people and be concerned about other people because it’s not about ‘you’. You have to serve, you have to give back because life is hard…and you never know when you’ll need somebody to come and see about you.”
Smiley, whose grandmother was a dialysis patient, said, “one thing about [life], you may know where you been, but you don’t know where you going. And you don’t know what you going to have, or who you’re going to need . . . that’s why I do it, and I’m humbled for the opportunity . . . I love God and I love helping people . . . that’s why I’m here.”
Charles Lawson, president of the Sickle Cell Foundation Board of Directors said that Smiley makes a difference with the gala and for people with the disease.
Lawson said, “when [patients] go through ‘crises’ they can’t work, so we help pay their bills, and when they have extended hospital stays, we try to make sure they get everything they need while in there, and also, help make sure their families are taken care of during that time as well.”
Dana “Lady Woo” Woodruff, 95.7 Jamz radio personality, has been producing the gala through her company, ‘Vital Entertainment and Media Associates’ for the past three years.
“The Sickle Cell Gala has been one of Birmingham’s biggest black tie events for more than a decade,” she said. “When creating the show we look to incorporate elements that will excite supporters and make them spread the knowledge and news about sickle cell,” she said.
“It also gives people a wonderful occasion to dress in their best, socialize and hear and see more about a disease that affects mostly people of color.”
The Sickle Cell Walk and Gala raise funds to provide direct services for their clients, she said.
“Our sickle cell warriors are able to curb the expense of some prescription medications and other medical services because of the contributions of supporters,” Woodruff said. “I’ve seen families be able to secure everything from Christmas gifts from the foundation to basic living necessities such as bus passes to toiletries.”
Jesseca Morris, 21, a client at the foundation, said “[the Sickle Cell Foundation] has been very supportive, and has helped provide anything I need. They gave me a scholarship when I was at Lawson [State Community College] . . . I graduated from Lawson State Community College in 2016, with an associate degree in Communications. Now, I’m a senior at Montevallo University, with a Spanish major, and a minor in Psychology.”
Morris is as example of why it’s necessary for African-Americans to know whether they are a carrier of the sickle cell trait.
“Both of my parents carry the trait, and they didn’t know until the time I was born,” Morris said.
For more on the Sickle Cell Foundation of Central Alabama’s annual gala visit www.birminghamtimes.com.