Music Brings Life president and founder, Keenan Bristol a.k.a. “Special” doubled as hype man outside the Brooklyn Borough Hall on Wednesday, July 2. Storming the stage with back-up dancers in tow, the non-profit organization founder “whined up” his waist in support of blood awareness.
With a Superman “S” plastered in the center of his t-shirt, Bristol’s message is simple: Heroes donate blood. “If you donate just 1 pint of blood, you’re saving three lives,” said Bristol, reaching out to the audience. “You’re actually a hero.” Inside the cool air-conditioned building, the blood drive acquired 45 sign-ups total, which was only 5 people away from the organization’s overall goal of 50 donors.
“When I learned about the shortage of blood in the Black, Latino and Caribbean communities, I decided to use my talents and resources to make a difference,” said Bristol. “Music is a universal thing and a great way to create awareness.”
Music Brings Life, which focuses on educating the Black, Latino and Caribbean communities about the importance of donating blood, uses blood awareness concerts featuring influential artists to create inspiration, gain support and help generate donors. Wednesday’s concert was supported by Jamaican-American reggae artist, Shaggy.
“We’re involved in a whole heap of charity,” Shaggy said backstage, commenting on his appearance at the 2014 Music Brings Life Blood Awareness Concert. “We help when we can.”
The reggae artist, who was scheduled to perform in Victoria, BC, Canada the following Friday, July 4, explained that the days just seemed to work out. “There isn’t enough people to give blood and it’s a crisis,” said Shaggy. “We were called upon to support sickle cell disease and to support this blood drive and we were available.”
Outside, hands shot up as Shaggy shouted out the Caribbean communities. “Where my reggae people at,” he screamed into the mic. The lulled crowd roared into cries of excitement and pride as flags waved and fists pumped.
“New York could do with a good reggae festival, especially with such large West Indian communities,” said Shaggy. “And we’ve actually talked about producing such an event among ourselves, but I think for today’s event the main thing is that summer time is when blood is given the least.”
Stephanie York, the American Red Cross Account Manager of Donor Services and Recruitment, explained that partnerships with non-profit organization’s such as Music Brings Life are particularly important during these seasonal challenges. “Twenty percent of our blood donors are coming from high schools and colleges that are currently on vacation,” she said.
Out of the 45 sign-ups that came out to the Music Brings Life Blood Drive, only 23 people’s blood were collected due to various blood donation restraints. But while the number may seem small, “every blood donation can be multiplied by 3 to see how many people’s lives are being directly affected,” explains York. “For a summer blood drive, the numbers were good.”
Beneath the sweltering summer sun, sweat droplets beaded down the temples of fans as they sang along to familiar lyrics. Shaggy held out the mic to a chanting audience: “She call me Mr. Boombastic, say me fantastic!”
“Most people connect blood to a taboo, to violence and death,” said Music Brings Life Event Organizer, Prince Forde. “The key is to get people excited, to change the meaning, to make it cool.”
Music Brings Life will hold three more concerts over the summer series on July 16 and August 13, including the finale 2014 5 Alarm Blaze Blood Awareness Concert on August 31, which features well-known reggae artist Konshens among others. As an incentive, the first 200 people to donate at one of the remaining blood drives will be given free tickets to the concert on August 31.