Rufus King grad earns inaugural scholarship in fight against sickle cell

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

To her friends, Alana Fisher is sometimes known as “the Milwaukee optimist.”

The incoming freshman at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee packs her schedule with community service and activities that promote the city she’s called home her whole life, all with her signature infectious positivity.

“I love to get involved, tell people about the interesting things to see. There is always something going on,” said Alana.

Fisher, left, can add another nickname from her burgeoning academic and service involvement: nationally recognized sickle cell fighter.

Fisher, 18, was recently announced as one of the inaugural recipients of a $5,000 scholarship established by the American Red Cross for student leadership in strengthening the blood supply through diverse donors. Fisher led numerous blood drives with the Red Cross at Rufus King High School in Milwaukee, including the drives during the 2021-22 school year that brought in more than four-dozen units from diverse donors.

Upon hearing the news of the scholarship from the Red Cross and a teacher in mid-July, Fisher admitted she shed tears. It was a joyous recognition of her hard work to rally her fellow student donors – especially amid a pandemic – as well as cover the sometimes prohibitive costs of secondary education.

“When I called my mom, I was like ‘Oh my god, I’m so happy,’ and she said, ‘You should be proud of yourself,” said Alana, who had also earned a Red Cross Leaders Save Lives scholarship earlier in high school.

The Red Cross Sickle Cell Fighter High School Scholarship goes to students at the top 10 high schools in the U.S. for collecting blood from donors who are Black, supporting the goal of helping sickle cell patients by diversifying the blood supply. The $5,000 to students additionally promotes access to and diversity in higher education. The participating high school also receives $1,000.

Click here to find out more about our Sickle Cell Fighter Scholarships.

Fisher and Rufus King were one of two students/school from the Midwest who ranked in the top 10 for the inaugural scholarships that were announced in July, with other honorees coming from high schools in Ohio, Georgia, Texas, South Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Fisher, center, with her Rufus King High School peers during a blood drive in 2021.

Among other public health benefits, more diversity in the blood supply from self-identified Black donors can aid people receiving transfusions to deal with excruciating pain caused by sickle cell disease. Sickle cell disproportionately affects people of color.

Mark Thomas, Regional CEO and Southeast Wisconsin Executive Director, said the efforts at these blood drives by Alana will have a lasting, positive impact for people dealing with the pain of sickle cell disease. She’ll also stand as a role model for Milwaukee high school students who follow in her footsteps. 

“As a Milwaukee Public Schools graduate myself, I could not be prouder of Alana’s national leadership toward earning this important scholarship,” said Thomas. “Her upbeat spirit to bring in many first-time and diverse donors through these school drives shows the very best of our youth in Milwaukee and Wisconsin.”

Outside of college courses this summer, Alana has been plenty busy with weeknight river clean-ups and weekend festival participation, often inviting friends to join her. Although undecided in her college course of studies at the moment, she said she’s leaning toward public health. Along those lines, she’s expected to get involved in the Red Cross blood drives that also happen at her college campus.

For those in high school curious about hosting blood drives, Alana said the scholarship possibilities are part of a bigger return. 

“Getting connected with people you never would’ve known,” she said. “For my future endeavors … having school and Red Cross references, being able to come back to help out my school, it is all helping me figure out my future and my path.”

Make your appointment to donate life-saving blood. Visit RedCrossBlood.org for your spot at an upcoming donation site near you.

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