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Saving Lives On and Off the Job

Mahogany Thomas is a U.S. Probation Officer in Los Angeles, California who created the Battle of the Badges Blood Drive, a friendly competition among Southern California’s badge-carrying agencies to determine which agency can donate the most blood, and ultimately help save the most lives.

Mahogany ThomasMahogany Thomas is being honored as a Champion of Change for her service to the American Red Cross. 

I am honored and humbled beyond words to represent the U.S. Probation Office in Los Angeles, California and the American Red Cross as a White House Champion of Change. Several years ago, I enrolled in a leadership class that challenged me to find out who I am, what drives me to succeed, and what might bring balance and fulfillment to my life.  Somewhere in this process, I had an epiphany that shaped my career and personal life. I recognized that my life worked so much better when I was focused on helping others.

Around the same time, I also became aware of the American Red Cross blood program and the constant need for blood donations. I learned that hospitals and trauma centers trust the Red Cross to deliver lifesaving blood for accident victims, sick children, and cancer patients. I learned that there is no substitute for human blood -- no synthetic liquid, wonder drug or state-of-the-art device capable of replacing a pint of donated blood. I learned that each year, hundreds of thousands of Southern California hospital patients depend on healthy blood donors for their second chance. I also learned that the #1 reason that people do not donate, is because they are not asked.  

As a U.S. Probation Officer, I try to help people get a second chance at life. I get to help people get back on their feet, transition back into society and become law-abiding citizens. Despite the obvious occupational hazards we face while in the field, the upside greatly outweighs those risks. There are few experiences in life more rewarding than seeing someone make the most of a second chance. Giving people a second chance is what shaped the platform for the “Battle of the Badges” Blood drive competition.  

Being in law enforcement for the past decade, I was keenly aware of our tendency to be a competitive bunch and decided to use this well-known fact for a good cause. I also know that, despite the fact that we carry guns and put ourselves in life-threatening situations on a regular basis, the majority of us are deathly afraid of needles!  We combined these two aspects and thus the Battle of the Badges Blood Drive was born. The concept was simple -- a friendly competition among Southern California’s badge-carrying agencies to determine which agency can donate the most blood, and ultimately help save the most lives. Friends and family members are also invited to donate, making the blood drives a terrific opportunity to involve the entire community. 

Planning and executing the first year of “Battle of the Badges” was especially challenging. I shed more than a few tears and doubted myself from time to time. But never for too long, because I had the help and support of an amazing, unselfish and fearless committee of fellow probation officers, who on top of their fulltime workloads, stood by me, reassured me, and above all inspired me, to keep going. They believed in me, when I didn’t always believe in myself. Not only did I have the committee as a resource, but I also had the full support of my chief, our administration, and of course the unwavering dedication of the Red Cross. 

Despite all the setbacks that first year, we made it happen, and I learned some awfully valuable lessons. I learned that “no” is just the start of a negotiation, and the opening of a dialogue of counteroffers. During this process, I learned the true meaning of becoming unstoppable. And that’s what my committee and I truly became. We were unstoppable in the cause of saving lives. We pounded the pavement, literally going from precinct to precinct, agency to agency, speaking to officers, deputies, fire fighters and special agents. We talked to them about the importance of blood donations and how one donation could save up to three lives. We generated flyers and invitation letters and in many instances, we were not above begging and pleading to get sign ups. We were amateurs, we were unorganized, and we didn’t know what we were doing, but we knew why we were doing it, and that purpose –saving lives – is what kept us going.   

The “Battle of the Badges” has grown immensely since its debut in 2006, developing into the nation’s largest and most successful law enforcement blood drive effort. Along the way, we have enlisted support from local elected officials, retail stores, restaurants and professional sports teams to help our cause. It’s encouraging to know that there are so many people throughout our community willing to help a great cause if you just ask! The inaugural Battle of the Badges campaign ran for one week, had 15 participating agencies, and 333 people presented to donate. Our success drove us to work harder, organize more, talk to more people, and increase our efforts 100%. Every year after, we set unreasonable goals and met them! Fast-forward to 2012 and the campaign now runs for an entire month.  Last year, we had over 5,200 people present to donate, 150 blood drive sites and over 200 participating agencies, including local police, sheriff and fire departments, the FBI, Secret Service and Federal Judges just to name a few! 

The “Battle of the Badges” is entering it’s 7th year and the future of this campaign has no limits -- it will continue long after I am gone and I am so proud of the legacy that it will leave. But mostly, I am proud of the officers who put their lives on the line every day to keep their communities safe and also take the time to donate blood faithfully every year. Our slogan is “saving lives on and off the job” and there is no truer statement. I am so deeply honored to be selected as a Champion of Change, and I sincerely hope that we can channel the excitement and momentum this has generated to launch Battle of the Badges Blood Drives all across our nation. The need is constant. Please Give Blood.

Mahogany Thomas serves as Blood Drive Coordinator of the Battle of the Badges Blood Drive Program