Patrick Robinson looks like your typical millennial — kind, outgoing, and driven. What you can’t see is that Patrick was diagnosed with Sickle Cell Disease at only a few months old and has been fighting it ever since. What you also might not recognize is that Patrick, only two years out of college, also runs his own business, raising awareness not just for sickle cell survivors but for all survivors.
The journey to becoming an entrepreneur started in 2012 when Patrick was finishing up his junior year of high school in Warrenton, NC and didn’t know how he was going to spend his summer. A guidance counselor at his high school recommended our Youth Leadership Program, a program we started in 2008 to develop the next generation of leaders.
“I didn’t know opportunities like that existed,” Patrick says, reflecting on when he first heard of the program. But he applied anyway, and we readily accepted him into our community.
That summer, Patrick joined a group of 27 students from rural North Carolina counties who would spend eight weeks attending leadership activities and networking events while also working on programs within their own communities. At the beginning of the program, Patrick remembers watching a video of students, who had been part of the program in years prior, share what they were doing now.
“We’re going to be on that video next year for students coming back,” Patrick remembers thinking. “They paved the way, and now we’re paving it.”
Patrick would go on to attend North Carolina Central University’s business school, become Mister NCCU and eventually return to our Youth Leadership Program in the summer of 2014 — this time as a Community Economic Development Planning Assistant.
He supervised 25 students that summer, planned leadership events, and visited different communities to check on the progress of their projects. The most rewarding part of that summer? “Seeing other high school students coming from a rural, underrepresented county in North Carolina and still having a chance at a good opportunity,” Patrick says.
But that summer was significant for Patrick in other ways too. It was the first time he openly shared his sickle cell journey.
“The Initiative really made me come out and start sharing about sickle cell,” Patrick shares. Before that summer, only a handful of close friends and family knew about his condition. When he did share openly with the interns and staff during the summer of 2014, it started him on a path of boldly sharing his story and relating to other survivors on a whole new level.
“Their response was just elevating,” Patrick says. Going back to school after that summer, he realized being Mister NCCU was a platform for raising awareness as well. His catchphrase became “be a man” (based on a shirt he frequently wore at the time), and it quickly caught wind on social media. This eventually would turn into O. Minor, Patrick’s clothing line that features designs in the shape of sickle cells. But O. Minor’s mission extends far beyond raising awareness of sickle cell — it brings together a community of survivors who can share their own experiences while learning about the experience of others. In Patrick’s words, it was inspired by sickle cell but is for all survivors.
O. Minor is a family-run business, with Patrick’s family and friends helping to make and market the clothes. Patrick hopes in time O. Minor will bring more national attention to a disease that isn’t super well known, while still empowering all survivors to share their story.
“You get a lot of attention around cancer, HIV, big-name diseases. I wish just as many eyes were watching sickle cell,” Patrick says. “A lot of people didn’t know what it was — they just knew I was a survivor.”
Somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 Americans have sickle cell, according to the American Society of Hematology. Throughout his life, Patrick has been hospitalized countless times — once for 27 days in a row. Sickle cells get stuck in the bloodstream and block blood flow, causing intense pain and infections. Infection prevention is vital for Patrick, as is maintaining a positive outlook.
“Staying positive is half the cure for me,” Patrick says.
Not only is Patrick managing O. Minor and his battle with sickle cell, but he also started The PAT Foundation to provide scholarships to people looking to return to school. Much like our youth program, Patrick is mindful of equipping the next generation of leaders. He encourages future interns to embrace everything the program has to offer and learn to embrace their voices as well.
“Don’t be ashamed of yourself and who you are,” he says.
Patrick’s definition of a survivor is broad. For him, it was sickle cell, but for someone else, it may be something entirely different. His goal in sharing his story is to encourage others to share theirs in a space where they feel comfortable and realize they aren’t alone after all.
To learn more about the Youth Leadership Program, call (919) 756-5106 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.