When Jordan Taylor Brown smiled, people around him smiled too. That’s what his mother Loretta remembers. But when Jordan was 21, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and an act of violence ended his life. During this tragic time, his family and friends discovered that Jordan had registered as an organ donor. By honoring his decision, his family made it possible for Jordan to save the lives of seven people.
But Jordan’s legacy didn’t end there. In the ten years since his death, Jordan’s memory continues to inspire young people in his community and beyond.
Amidst their grief after Jordan’s death, his family found the courage to honor his memory through the Jordan Taylor Brown Foundation. The foundation was founded not only to honor Jordan’s memory, but also to enact change in the lives of young men and women by providing scholarships, mentoring, and opportunities to serve their communities as advocates for non-violence. Their vision is to empower young men and women to become ambassadors to end violence among the younger generation.
“We want young people to spread peace and not so much anger,” says Jordan’s aunt Sonia Taylor. “The first thing they think about grabbing is a gun to deal with those conflicts. We want them to be change agents. We want them to think about what they can do to make any situation better…what they can do as a young man or young woman to help make things better in the community.”
Members of the foundation speak to youth in the local community to encourage them to make good decisions in their life. They actively speak out against gun violence and serve as role models for adolescents who might be at risk for these behaviors. The foundation also holds an annual basketball tournament to keep Jordan’s memory alive, connecting to his love for basketball. Sonia says, “We make sure the children understand that it’s not just about basketball. It’s about what Jordan’s legacy was all about and the fact that he was able to help seven families.”
Seeing the Impact
For Jordan’s aunt, Sonia, donation and transplantation was part of her life even before Jordan’s death. Growing up, Sonia was always proud of her ability to see farther and clearer than anyone in her family. “I remember as a young girl taking road trips with my parents and my Dad and I would always play a game to see who could read the highways signs that were farthest away,” recalls Sonia. “Of course, I would always win! I was so proud.”
But then, in her late twenties, Sonia noticed that her vision was changing – the highway signs she had always seen so clearly appeared double, with a ghost-like image after each word. Her vision was deteriorating rapidly and Sonia’s optometrist suggested she meet with a specialist at the Wilmer Eye Institute at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Her doctor diagnosed her with a corneal abnormality called keratoconus. “Being naïve at the time, I figured there would be options for treatment,” says Sonia. After several failed treatments, the final option was a cornea transplant, a procedure to replace part of the patient’s cornea with corneal tissue from a deceased donor. Sonia received her cornea transplant in 1992, and has never looked back. “The vision in my right eye improved significantly,” said Sonia. “The experience also gave me a first-hand experience of the value of organ, eye, and tissue donation. Thanks to my donor, I can see again. I’m so grateful that Jordan was able to offer the gift of organ donation to families – just like my donor offered to me.”
The need for organ, eye, and tissue donors in the African-American community is great. Nearly 30% of those currently waiting for an organ transplant are African-American, largely due to the high rates of diabetes and high blood pressure that impact this community. However in 2016, only 16% of all donors were African-American. While donated organs are not matched with recipients based on race or ethnicity, transplant recipients and the donor must have similar genes in their immune systems so that the body will not reject the organ. The more African-American donors there are, the more African-American recipients that can be saved.
Myths and misconceptions about donation play a large role in the lower rates of donation. Medical mistrust is not uncommon and not without historical justification. But as long as myths such as “they won’t save me,” are perpetuated, African-American lives in our community are being lost. “I want everyone to know that the doctors at the hospital are there to save YOU, regardless of your race or your donor status,” says Libby Wolfe of Donate Life Maryland. “YOUR life matters, whether you are able to become an organ donor or you need a transplant. Everyone should ask themselves, ‘would I accept an organ if I needed a transplant?’ If the answer is ‘yes,’ you should consider registering so that you can potentially save a life one day.”