This article was originally published on BLAC Detroit Magazine.

Kidney-related complications has been one of the leading causes of death in the United States since 2020, according to data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For African Americans, kidney disorders ranks 9th in the center’s data on underlying cause of death from 2018 to 2020.

Additionally, the National Kidney Foundation states that the average Black person is three times more likely to experience kidney failure than the average white person.

Being part of this statistic, Lional “Jelly Roll” Dalton now dedicates his time to help kidney donors and recipients through the Jellyroll Gift of Life organization. BLAC sat with the Detroit-born, NFL-star to talk about his new-found meaning in life.

BLAC: We have read a lot about you, but one thing eluded us. How did you get your nickname?

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I had a coach who had just moved to Detroit. He was from Alabama. He’s a brother and a mentor to me to this day. He had two guys on our team race. We flipped a coin, and I lost. So, I had to take my shirt off and he got to wear his shirt.

We ended up doing the race, and I won. My coach came to me and said, “That must be jelly, ‘cause jam don’t shake like that.” Then, all the others were like, “Jelly, you be rolling”. That somehow ended up as “Jelly Roll”.

You know, it was a joke at first. I started liking it. I liked the attention and I just stuck with it.

BLAC: You battled elite players for nine years. And, you found yourself in a battle for your life after being diagnosed with end stage kidney failure. What did you learn about yourself during that battle?

It’s the little things. Normal things like day to day, breathing, I appreciate little things more. And when I realize that it could have been taken away from me — I have an attitude for gratitude now. I appreciate everything like hanging out with my children making sure I reach to call just to say hello to folks.

A cancer patient told me when we were visiting a hospital in Baltimore, “Don’t feel sorry for me.” She said she didn’t start living until she started dying.

And so you really start seeing the big picture when life is like, “I might not wake up anymore.” What life’s really about and what your purpose really is.

BLAC: During this battle, how did you keep your spirit up?

Man, my wife is a manifestation coach. She’s a very spiritual person and we would do meditation. We would also do affirmations.

My wife is into sound bowl healing; I liked the sound bowls. We did a lot of manifestation and just trying to speak things into existence. And, trying to keep my mind focused on my goal instead of on my situation.

Everybody chipped in. My mother would come down for a few months here and there, my sisters. My family rotated coming down to help because I was down, and we’ve got four children. She needed help.

BLAC: How did Jellyroll Gift of Life come about?

We help people who are struggling with the out-of-pocket expenses that come along with kidney transplants.

Being at the clinic for dialysis, you get to see different people. I was there three days a week for 15 hours. You meet people, you end up seeing this person for two years, 15 hours a week, you become friends. I’d be there one day and come back after the weekend and that person’s gone. [That happened] at least three times while I was on dialysis. I also met a lady who was 80 years old; she had been on it (dialysis) for 40 years.

A friend of mine also just passed away from complications of kidney failure. They had been on dialysis forever.

I’ve been to about seven different clinics and most of the people on dialysis were all Black and brown people.

I felt bad that these people couldn’t afford their medications and they were dying. They were dying because they just didn’t have the necessary resources to pay for their medications. I thought, “If I can use my influence to help a few people. I will.”

So, that’s what I’ve been focused on doing right now: raising money and bringing awareness. 

BLAC: So there’s a picture with you with some of your teammates when you were in the hospital, were, was that a surprise? Did they surprise you?

Yeah, they actually popped in. Some of the guys still live there in Baltimore. And, the Ravens have been sharing my story as well.

One of my old teammates got a bunch of the guys together and they showed up at the hospital with gifts and shirts and different things, just to lift my spirit.

I appreciated it. Knowing people still care about you; that they hadn’t forgotten about you. Those were people who genuinely care, who I shared some really good experience with, like the Super Bowl. We were really close.

BLAC: So, what is next for you?

Whew, man. Since I received my kidney I’ve been going a hundred.

There’s the Cooley project in Detroit. I feel obligated to give back and help people. We are opening up my old high school, making opportunity for people in the neighborhood. I’ve been working on this Cooley project for the last 11 years. Recently I joined forces with Our Life Remodeled; they have Durfee Innovation School and we realized we would accomplish more by working together.

Then, I have my book; My wife’s keeping me busy because I had to find a way to eat up that 15 hours a week when I was doing dialysis. My wife said, I need a hobby or something. So I wrote a book. The book just launched on Amazon the other day. It’s called “Who the Hell Are We?”.

Right before COVID we traveled for about a year around globe. We went to Africa, UAE, China, Australia, South America, and Cuba. I was doing these Facebook posts and my friends were all loving it. I took all my posts, and I made a book about this experience.

My initial reason for traveling was trying to figure out who I am as an African American. I have a lot of friends in different sets of religions. Different groups of friends who identify with something outside of being an African American. I decided I’m going to travel and try to figure it out myself. And, that was a hard feat. It was an eye opening experience for me.

BLAC: Lastly, Where should people go if they want to get involved with or donate to the Jellyroll Gift of Life?

They can go to the jellyrollgiftoflife.org or they can follow me on my social media platforms: FacebookTwitterInstagram

@bjstrawter #SuperBowl Fundraiser with JellyRoll Gift of Life #entrepreneur #blac #detroittoatlanta #worklife #agencylife #atlanta #blacatlanta ♬ Ooh Ahh (My Life Be Like) [feat. Tobymac] – Grits

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