NORTH BETHESDA – If you haven’t seen him at the gas pump, or working hard as a choir director in his church, then you may just have seen Rocky Twyman in another of his variety of activities as a social activist.
He has traveled to Ferguson MO to pray for protesters. He was in Baltimore with the protesters and during the riots there.
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In 1995 Rocky Twyman watched his close friend Alicia Nelson die from Chronic Myeloid Leukemia.
Three years earlier, when Nelson was diagnosed there were few options for her to get a donation. Unlike organ transplants, bone marrow transplants often require the donor and patients to be of the same ethnic background.
Unfortunately for Nelson at the time, few African-Americans had donated bone marrow, so Twyman with an experience background in communication did what he calls “P.R. activism.”
“In the black community a lot of people were hesitant to get tested,” Twyman said.
Twyman used his skills in media to help raise awareness for CML, blood tests and the need for bone-marrow donations in the African-American community.
“The press really did help raise the awareness about the need to get tested,” he said.
On Jan. 16, Twyman, 68, was given the County’s Humanitarian Award for his work organizing bone marrow donation drives that have saved the lives of people across the globe.
Twyman, of Rockville, has crisscrossed the United States and the world traveling to Seattle, Atlanta, Baltimore, Los Angeles and even travelled to South Africa to help raise awareness about the need for a bone marrow center.
“This guy is a life savior, literally in our midst,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-8).
Twyman, one of the younger veterans of the Civil Rights Movement was honored by the County’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day tribute at Strathmore Music Center.
According to James Stowe, director of the Montgomery County Office of Human Rights, only two percent of the nation’s bone marrow registry was from minority donors, but by today it is eight percent are from minority donors in part thanks to Twyman’s efforts.
“The lives of several people in Montgomery County have been saved,” Stowe said. “Twyman is a super volunteer and did not receive any remuneration for his drives. He paid his own travel expenses to a host of cities and South Africa where he raised awareness about the need for the country to establish a bone marrow center to prevent patients from having to travel to Europe to acquire the procedure.”
Originally from Atlanta, Twyman first got his taste for activism on the front lines of the Civil Right Movement, participating in a strike outside of a Kroger grocery store where protestors demanded African-American workers have the same access to higher paying jobs as whites.
“They wouldn’t let me go to jail because I was just 13,” Twyman said.
Twyman recalled white agitators spitting and throwing rocks at him and the other protestors who were picketing the grocery store. After months of protest, Kroger finally relented and hired African-American cashiers.
“It was very successful because the black people really stopped shopping there,” he said.
For decades Twyman has used his background in media relations to promote the values from Dr. King, someone he met during the Civil Rights Movement.
Recently, Twyman has helped raise money for hurricane victims in Haiti and victims of the fire at Flower Branch in Silver Spring back in August often volunteering with church groups saying his faith motivates him to be active in the Community.
“He’s a journalist, advocate, champion for the underdog, Civil Rights veteran. Yes, he wears many hats and has many roles,” said Stowe said.