New Exhibition Chronicles Stories of  African-American Transplant Recipients


Art installation is a catalyst for dialogue about the need for more registered organ and tissue donors.  Taiwan Walker, a kidney recipient, poses with new exhibit.

By Noel Sanchez

Donor Network West and the African American Museum and Library at Oakland (AAMLO) are pleased to announce the opening of the groundbreaking photography and multimedia exhibition: “Giving Me Life: A Visual Journey of African American Organ and Tissue Transplant Recipients.” The art installation will be hosted at AAMLO from June 9 through August 31.

Through a series of black and white portraits taken by Bay Area social documentary photographer Katie Sugarman, “Giving Me Life” depicts the visual testimonials of nine local African-American transplant recipients who have overcome incredible obstacles in their respective journeys toward health and wellness—all thanks to the gift of organ, eye, and tissue donation.

The primary exhibit will feature two photographs accompanied by a short narrative of each recipient. Other elements include an audiovisual station that will highlight compelling community perspectives from African Americans who champion the cause of organ and tissue donation locally, as well as samples of tools and resources connected to the donation process.

“This project is why I love photography; its power to bring people together to learn from and share each other’s stories. Stories of strength and resilience that are depicted through the vulnerability and power of the portraits. The people I’ve met though this project have given me so much strength and it’s my hope that by sharing their amazing stories we can make a difference,” said Katie Sugarman, whose mother is a heart transplant recipient.

The city of Oakland is located in Alameda County, which has one of the highest percentage of African-American residents in Donor Network West’s service area of 40 counties, second only to Solano. Although African Americans make up five percent of the 13 million people served by Donor Network West, they represent 10 percent of those waiting for organ transplants in the region.


DeWanda Joseph (left), Richmond social justice advocate and living kidney donor to her nephew,

Multiple research studies have shown that trust and mistrust of health institutions, physicians, or agencies such as organ and tissue recovery organizations directly affect the health care and end-of-life decisions of African Americans. With that in mind, the exhibition opening on June 9 will feature a panel discussion of influential community leaders and donation champions, who will offer their perspectives on the intersection of the African American experience as it pertains to donation and transplantation.

“Oakland is at the epicenter of social justice, innovations in healthcare, and a vibrant arts scene. We are honored to partner with AAMLO to celebrate the life of the featured transplant recipients but also create an opportunity to engage with the community through art,” said Brandy Gleason, Regional Director of Donor Network West. “This exhibition serves as a vital catalyst for dialogue and advocacy about the need for more conversations and donor registrations in the African American community.”

In anticipation of the exhibition opening, Donor Network West will also host the screening of “A Question of Faith” film at AAMLO on January 2. The film follows three families who experience tragedy on a converging path of challenges to their faith, and a rediscovery of grace and mercy. The movie delivers a powerful message about donation.

One organ donor can save the lives of up to eight people and a tissue donor can heal more than 75 others. Anyone can register as a donor at or at the DMV. For information, visit or find the organization on all social media platforms by searching @mydnwest.


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