When Hannibal Brooks looks back on 2017, it all comes down to two: two months, two minutes, two weeks, two days, two life-changing experiences.

It started in the spring at Mississippi State, when Hannibal and his twin Malcolm swabbed their cheeks as part of a campus-wide event for National Bone Marrow Registry Day. Just two months later, he received the call that he had matched with an anonymous patient. Malcolm got the same message, about the same patient, two minutes later.

Two weeks passed and the pair headed to New Jersey for a battery of tests to finalize the match. Though the identical twins have the same marrow type, it ultimately was Hannibal who got the nod.

Then, just two days after the brothers crossed the Humphrey Coliseum stage to receive bachelor’s degrees in food science, nutrition and health promotion, Hannibal lay in a hospital bed at Hackensack University Medical Center. He was sore and down a few ounces of tissue but happy with his decision.

“All I knew was that the recipient was a 14-year-old girl from Illinois with leukemia, but I was happy to do it. And I just got an update that she’s doing well,” Hannibal explained, noting he plans to attend the annual Gift of Life Gala, which raises money for marrow transplants and offers donors the opportunity to meet their recipients.

Only about 30 percent of those who register as donors are ever matched with a patient, but Hannibal said his and Malcolm’s odds were higher due to the need for donors with African ancestry. The genetic markers used to pair donors and patients are hereditary, meaning a person is more likely to find a match in someone from the same ethnic background. Currently, only 66 percent of African Americans in need find donors, the lowest of any reported group including Caucasian, Hispanic, Native American and Asian.

“Cancer touches everyone and donation is a way you can do something about it,” Hannibal explained. “It’s not scary; you’re changing someone’s life.”

For Hannibal, the actual donation only took about an hour. He explained that a series of small shots were administered to mobilize the marrow. The doctors then inserted a hollow needle into the iliac crest, commonly called the hip bone, to withdraw the material.

“I took four or five days to recover but I was able to walk the second day,” Hannibal recalled. “After donation, you’re just really sore, like if you had a really intense workout. It wasn’t too bad.”

Hannibal said he recovered at home in Pensacola, Florida, watching episodes of the popular quiz show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” often with Malcolm. Self-proclaimed trivia junkies, the twins have always been fans of any kind of trivia game or TV show. As undergraduates, they were part of the intercollegiate MSU Quiz Bowl team and helped the university advance to the College Bowl national competition at an Institute of Food Technologists conference—a point of pride for the department, which hadn’t ranked in the knowledge-based competition in 10 years.

It was with all that in mind that Malcolm had an idea.

“I said, ‘You know you don’t have to audition in person. We could make a video,’” Malcolm recalled. “I looked at a lot of audition videos online and they were kind of lacking in production value. I thought we could make something to stand out.”

Once Hannibal agreed to the idea, Malcolm started working on a concept and script, drawing on their experience with MSU’s Silver Screeners Film Society and, more surprisingly, his food science classes.

“My last semester at State, I had a class with Dr. Michael Breazeale where we talked about strategic brand management,” Malcolm explained. “He said, ‘You need to figure out what your brand is.’ So, with Hannibal I asked, ‘What is he?’ and put a funny spin on it.”

In just 30 seconds, the resulting video showcases a sun-loving, flag-waving, twin-having, cowbell-ringing, graduate-school attending food scientist in need of some quick cash. It’s entertaining, engaging and in less than 48 hours had attracted the attention of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” producers.

“I got an email the day after submitting the video,” Hannibal said. “They had me go through a test to assess if I’d be able to compete. I did well enough that they kept passing me along until they said ‘We’re going to have you on the show.’”

So, two days before the twins were scheduled to start graduate school in the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce, they flew to Las Vegas for filming—Hannibal as a contestant, Malcolm as his lifeline, both wearing tropical print shirts.

“The process was fascinating,” Hannibal said.

But Malcolm added, “You feel a lot of pressure being someone’s lifeline.”

Hannibal made it to the $30,000 question before calling on Malcolm. Together the twins came up with the right answer to keep him advancing in the competition, but a $1-million payout was not in his future. Hannibal ultimately left with $5,000 and tickets to see Penn and Teller, Malcolm earned a spot in the contestant pool for future episodes, and they returned to the Southeast to begin graduate school.

Though they didn’t intend to shadow each other through their collegiate careers, Hannibal said Malcolm’s explanations for pursuing food science at Mississippi State were persuasive. While at State, he said he began to understand how his new knowledge could be applied, specifically to combine his creativity with business.

For graduate school, it was Hannibal’s conviction that spurred Malcolm into an academic program. Curriculum-completing international immersion experiences will soon send the brothers to different countries and they plan to pursue separate paths following their graduation from Virginia. But, ultimately, they said they think their professional pursuits will converge again.

“We have a lot in common, and it’s not that we always agree but our decision-making process tends to lead us down similar paths,” Hannibal explained. “I think it’s good because we work great as a team. We’re not inseparable, but we can accomplish a lot together.”


By Susan Lassetter, Photos submitted