RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) -
The Annual Unity Ride, the biggest fundraiser in the local fight against sickle cell disease draws hundreds to the area. Each year, the ride ends at Second Baptist Church of South Richmond
Florence Neal Cooper Smith discovered her divine purpose at 10 years old when she stumbled upon a medical journal about sickle cell anemia.
"I'm a strong believer that when you are conceived, God knows what he wants you to do in life," she says. "[Sickle cell] was a disease that affected colored people. There was no cure, you were born with it, and you died young. I never forgot it.
In 1972, that passion eventually pushed her to leave a government job where she'd been for 17 years to run the first Virginia sickle cell anemia awareness program at MCV.
At a time when little was known about sickle cell disease, smith's program brought screening, research and education to Richmond. And even at 83 years old, this pioneer is still on the move.
"It's like anything else, if you don't keep beating a drum, it loses its sound," she says.
Smith is encouraging her church, Second Baptist Church of South Richmond, and the entire faith community to make more families aware of this genetic blood disorder. Sickle cell anemia affects more than 100,000 people across the country. Most of them are minorities.
"Sickle cell becomes a part of our mission because it affects a good portion of our population," says Pastor Ralph Hodge of Second Baptist Church of South Richmond.
Under the leadership of Pastor Hodge, the church has hosted every the annual sickle cell Unity Ride for the past few years.
"You hear 400-500 motorcycles coming in, the police are leading us in and the crowd is out here getting excited. So we use the motorcycles as a draw," Hodge says.
The annual fundraiser raises thousands of dollars to support sickle cell survivors. Smith says she wants to raise $1 million before she dies and she's not giving up anytime soon.
Smith is being honored Friday. VCU and the MCV Foundation have created a professorship in her name for the work she's done in sickle cell disease.
To register for the Unity Ride, click here