By Ameera Steward
Daagye Hendricks is not one to remain stationary. The Birmingham Board of Education member, businesswoman and mom of a 16-year-old, had an opportunity to become a part of the Living Donor Navigator Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB)—and she didn’t hesitate to join.
Hendricks wanted to not only try something different but also do something she believes in: “Diversify yourself, stay fresh, and make sure you sharpen your toolbox and your skill set.”
“The opportunity to create a [Living Donor Navigator] program or be a part of that was, of course, exciting. More importantly, … I knew I could make a difference, and that is gratifying,” she said.
More than 110,000 people in the United States are on waiting lists to receive life saving organs, and nearly 100,000 of those are awaiting a kidney. The Living Donor Navigator Program, founded in 2017, works with both recipients and donors to identify needs and guide each through the process, from transplantation to post-transplant. Hendricks is one of two patient navigators in the program.
“This body of work has never existed,” she said. “It is evolving every day as we continuously improve our standards driven by our patient outcomes.”
The initial goal was to have two transplants from the first set of classes in the first year—they ended up with more than 20.
Because of the program’s importance, Hendricks often works weekends: “On a Saturday, even.”
“I sometimes hate losing that time away from my family, but it is always a joy to be able to help someone along the way. The benefits we have been able to receive since this program started are very gratifying, to be able to reduce somebody’s wait time for a kidney transplant to six months to a year from four to 10 years is huge,” said Hendricks.
Her duties include educational outreach, letting people know how easy it is to donate a kidney and talking about the needs for kidney donation. She also works with people who have signed up for her class and helps them navigate the process of identifying and attracting live donors. The class is designed primarily for family members of the patient, she said.
“It is hard enough to go through dialysis and fight the emotional struggles that go along with that to stay healthy enough to get transplanted,” Hendricks said. “Our goal is to teach the family members—the wife, the husband, the coworker, the church member—how to stand up and be an advocate for the other person’s care. Let us help them stay healthy enough to get transplanted. Let me teach you how to do the outreach to help save your friend or your family member’s life.”
Learning the Business
Public service is part of Hendricks’s DNA.
“That is inherently who I am,” she said. “The best part of me and my day is public service. I want to help someone else. I want to make a difference. I want to be impactful. I want to make someone else’s day or way easier for them. That is gratifying. That is why I serve.”
Hendricks, 44, learned to help others growing up with her family in Birmingham. She watched her grandfather run his restaurant, Bud’s Deli, on Finley Boulevard in North Birmingham’s Acipco neighborhood. Her grandfather’s brothers and sisters owned the Hendricks Brothers restaurant on the same block. One of her grandmothers owned a beauty shop and her other grandmother helped operate the deli business. Her parents, Elias and Gaynell Hendricks, own the Wee Care Academy day care center.
“I really didn’t know anything different,” said Hendricks. “When I was a little girl, my grandfather owned a delicatessen. … When I was about 4 or 5, I learned how to count money because he had me working his cash register. I was enthralled by that process of actually counting money and … the process of selling those goods—sandwiches, hot dogs, sodas. … That’s what really attracted me to doing business.”
Hendricks, currently in her second term as a board member, attended pre-kindergarten through fourth grade in New Jersey at Oak Knoll, a Montessori school. When the family moved to Birmingham, she went to Cherokee Bend and St. Paul’s elementary schools. She attended Altamont School from sixth through ninth grades and Homewood High School in her sophomore year, and she graduated from Shades Valley High School.
“I went to three different high schools, and that’s part of the reason why I got on the [Birmingham] School Board,” she said. “I have a very diverse academic background, and I wish I could see those types of advancements happen in public education, as well.”
After high school, Hendricks enrolled at Clark Atlanta University, thinking she was going to major in marketing, but she really wanted to be a social worker. Eventually, she changed her major to finance.
“I come from a family of entrepreneurs,” she said.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in finance, Hendricks later attended the University of Alabama to obtain an Executive Master of Business Administration degree; she has one more class to finish before graduating.
Around 2001, she moved to the Norwood community and embarked on another chapter in her life of service when she joined other residents to generate buzz, to create “… excitement about Norwood and get people interested in wanting to relocate … [to the neighborhood],” she said.
Norwood had two schools, Norwood Elementary School and Kirby Middle School, and both closed: “We realized over the years the impact that made in the neighborhood,” she said.
Hendricks worked to reopen one of those schools, and that gave her insight about the needs of her community.
“I was able to go into the [school board] position knowing some of the critical needs of my district,” she said.
Elected to School Board
In 2013, Hendricks was elected to the Birmingham Board of Education representing District 4; she was re-elected in 2017.
“The state took over the leadership [of the school system], and that’s what motivated me to run. … I really wanted to make a difference right where I am for my child and for all the students,” said Hendricks, whose son is a student at Ramsay High School and was attending Phillips Academy when she decided run for the school board.
Hendricks said Birmingham City Schools are headed in the right direction and have their finances in better order than when she first joined the board. Her district has five schools—Hayes K-8, Hudson K-8, Inglenook School, Norwood Elementary School, and Woodlawn High School—that serve 19 neighborhoods.
“Not only are the students within those schools my customers, but the neighborhood, the parents, the community are, too,” she said, explaining that board members don’t get assistants, so she has to answer each phone call.
“There’s an expectation to be available and accessible to the community. That is critical and necessary.”
“Board members have the responsibility of not only hiring, firing, and governing the superintendent but also being public servants in our communities and being stakeholders with our parents and our corporate partners.”
In addition to serving on the school board, Hendricks serves as a mentor—something she began long before being elected. She meets many of her students while they are in high school and stays with them through college.
“That’s just a part of me because I know the struggles academically,” Hendricks said. “I was not the smartest student in class. I had to work hard. I had to struggle sometimes. When I see my students … transitioning into that position, I do anything I can to help.”
Hendricks’s style of help includes scholarships, subsidies, “and just being there.”
“[When they say], ‘Hey, look, it’s getting hard out here, I don’t know if I’m going to make it through next semester.’ [I’m there] being that support, saying, ‘Hey, you can keep doing it,’ or aligning resources.”
Opportunity to Succeed
Oftentimes, Hendricks believes, the only thing separating children in terms of success is the opportunity to succeed.
“If you can bridge resources, oftentimes our children will reach up and grab them,” she said. “They just don’t know where to go. … I like to connect those dots, so we can make these things easier and work together to transform the community.”
Hendricks’s love of working with students began at her family’s Wee Care Academy, where she served as vice president of operations from 1999 to 2005 before taking a position at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth Airport; she returned to the day care from 2013 to 2017.
“Working with children keeps you energized,” she said. “It makes you keep changing your perspective. It makes you broaden your opinions. Our students, our children are the future. If you want to know where you’re going, you need to talk to the folks that are going there with you. I think we often ignore or overlook the words of children. I interact better with children.”
Hendricks has worked with Wee Care in different capacities since her college years.
“That made me not only realize how important it is to listen to children … but also realize the importance of service … [and] education,” she said. “Our children who graduated through Wee Care in the past 30 years … probably have almost 98 or 99 percent college-[attendance] rate. … Seeing that in [our] business, I feel compelled to try to translate that into public education.”
This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.