Debra White Roberts

Debra White Roberts holding a photo of Melika Rose

A Mother’s Mission in Advocating for Organ Donation in Communities of Color

Dressed in matching purple shirts, her daughter’s favorite color, Debra White Roberts gathered her team together for a picture on the monumental Philadelphia Art Museum stairs, right before the 26th annual Gift of Life Donor Dash commenced. This was the eighth year that Debra organized “Team Melika Rose” to commemorate the bravery and advocacy of her daughter, a pediatric kidney transplant recipient turned donor at just 19 years old.

Like many families gathered at the Donor Dash that day, Melika Rose’s family wanted to spread a critical message: organ donation matters. Her mom hopes that with each event, they can raise awareness for minority donors. August is #NationalMinorityDonorAwarenessMonth and focused on the serious health needs in communities of color. Sixty percent of the more than 100,000 children and adults awaiting transplant are from these communities.

From the time Melika Rose became a transplant recipient, she began advocating for organ donation. Born with failing kidneys, she received a life-saving transplant, which afforded her a full and joyous decade with her transplanted kidney. During her teen years, she hosted kick-boxing classes to raise money and, with her aunt’s help, started a foundation called Kidney Kicks. Proceeds went to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia where Melika received her transplant. “We had ten good years, which gave us plenty of love, laughter and joy,” said Debra. Sadly, Melika died at age 19, awaiting a second transplant. She became a cornea donor to help others as she was helped by the kindness of a donor hero.

Debra has continued Melika’s work in raising awareness, breaking through the taboo of organ donation discussion in the African American community. “I know the joy and the pain associated with organ donation,” Debra said. “We can’t escape our mortality. We don’t know when or how, but we do know we can make a difference.”

Before Melika died, she signed up to be an organ donor. “Her ID said ‘Organ Donor,’ so we knew her wishes when she passed, so it made it a lot easier for us to say ‘yes’ to organ donation.”

To sign up to be an organ donor, click here.