Celebrating Black History Month: Meet Terry Dotson

During Black History Month, we celebrate the African American and Black individuals that make our organization and the communities we serve what they are today. This week, we’re highlighting Terry Dotson, Business Operations Specialist for the American Red Cross Pacific Coast Chapter. We spoke with him about Black History Month and the importance of giving back and celebrating his community.

Where is your family from?

My family is from rural Georgia, outside of Athens, Georgia. My family has long ties to slavery and my mother, Natalie, grew up in the segregation era. I lived in Georgia until one year ago when I made the move across the country to Goleta, California.

Why is Black History Month important?

Knowing that my family came from slavery and that major piece of history is pretty important to me. Seeing where we came from, the overall culture and community, and the struggles that we had to go to feel like human beings in this country, are stories that are worth telling.

The contributions that African Americans have made to not only the United States but to the entire world, are stories that should be told. However, it is something that we continue to fight and struggle with to this day. For example, I didn’t know about Black Wall Street and the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre until my early 20’s. I think that’s a really good example of why Black history is something that is important we all have access to. It’s a lifelong learning journey.

How has your experience influenced your work with the Red Cross?

I think that my experience helps with the Red Cross, mostly because it allows me to step into an environment where I know that I potentially might be the odd one out; however, it doesn’t make me feel as if I’m not a part of something or a part of a bigger mission.

I know that I offer a different background and a different experience that some of my other team members or certain other people in the organization might not have experienced. I feel like that helps me become a conduit for any sort of conversations that need to be had on those sorts of things. I’m really glad that we have a variety of diversity, equity and inclusion programs within the Red Cross where we can grow, have these conversations and make changes.

What drew you to working with the Red Cross?

I grew up giving blood which is actually one of the reasons why I even became interested in the Red Cross. My brother used to donate blood a lot, and I got to learn about all the benefits that come with donating blood and how helpful it is for the community, which in turn inspired me to give.

Growing up, I didn’t really see a lot of people that look like me donating, or maybe they did because they wanted to get out of class at a high school blood drive. But seeing my brother go out of his way to do it outside of school and take the time to invest in that was really good to experience. I’m glad that he introduced that into my life.

It was really important for me to of course have a job and all the benefits that come with that. But I knew that this would be completely different from the other jobs that I’ve had in the past, and I would be working for an organization that was literally changing people’s lives. It gave me a sense of purpose. I knew that the things that I was doing would be helping the greater good and so in turn, I wanted to make sure that I was putting the most effort that I knew that I was capable of bringing to this organization.

I know that Sickle Cell Disease is a really big issue within the African American community, and how important it is to have that representation from diverse donors in the area. I hope to influence other people who look like me to give blood. I think a positive from that is seeing someone that looks like you asking you to do these things for our community and for our people. I’m hoping I can be a bigger influence when that time comes.

Terry Dotson and regional CEO, Tony Briggs

When I saw Tony Briggs was the regional chief executive officer, it was one of the several reasons why I was drawn to working for the Red Cross in Central California. Having active and current leaders in positions or influence influential positions is something I don’t experience often in the African American community. Not only is it really good to see him as a male African American leader in this type of role, but also to have engaging conversations with him and be able to recognize, appreciate and admire his leadership up close.

I do also have to acknowledge that I grew up in a single-parent household and it was my mom, and just that my dad wasn’t really involved around. So I have very, very high respect for African American women, just in general but because I never had very solid African American male figures in my life is a little bit more important to me to see it and also, in this particular case, be influenced by it.

Lastly, what are three words that describe what your culture and Black History mean to you?

Resiliency. Joy. Influence.

There are certain things that make me really happy about the Black community, especially our ability to turn something bad into something good. From clothing to music to acting, movies, music or food. Through time, we have received a lot of hate and then we just were like, we’re going to make the best of it. So we have influenced so many other things outside of our culture.

Love is part of that resiliency, that we understand to not only truly and deeply love ourselves in any environment, but then also use that self-love to give to others. I think one of the big things again in African American community is that we know that we are often looked down upon, but we are also able and willing to accept others even if they don’t look like us, and do our best to help.

From my time on this earth, I have seen people go out of their way to help people – no matter what they look like or how they have treated them – and despite all of that, we still try to do our best to show love.

February is Black History Month — a time to honor the significant achievements of Black and African Americans. You can learn about more contributions people of color have made in Red Cross history: rcblood.org/3soYh9c

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