Congresswoman Barbara Lee and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute co-sponsor an initiative to fight COVID-19 disinformation in Black communities

Congresswoman Barbara Lee and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute co-sponsored the COVID-19 African American Education and Outreach Initiative. (Cora J. Fossett/L.A. Sentinel)

The campaign to increase vaccine access in minority communities has stepped up a notch as churches and community organizations join with agencies such as Kaiser Permanente and Watts Healthcare Foundation to inoculate more Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC).

The COVID-19 African American Education and Outreach Initiative, co-sponsored by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, is part of a strategy to fight COVID-19 disinformation, persuade more BIPOC groups to get vaccinations and ultimately, end racism in public health.

To provide an update on the effort, the East Bay Community Foundation (EBCF), held a virtual briefing on September 16 featuring top executives from nonprofits and health groups that partnered to work directly with populations registering the lowest vaccination rates.

Lee and U.S. Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) shared greetings prior to the panel discussion as well as stressed their commitment to educating African Americans and minorities about the importance of the COVID-19 vaccines.  Following their comments, Dr. Paulette Brown-Hinds moderated the panel discussion. Brown-Hinds is the publisher of Black Voice News and owner of Voice Media Ventures, a strategic media and creation firm based in Riverside, California.


Stephanie Ledesma, Kaiser’s interim senior vice president of community health programs; the Rev. Dr. Jacqueline Thompson, senior pastor of the Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, California; Dr. Oliver Brooks, chief medical officer at Watts Healthcare Foundation in Los Angeles; Gloria Warner, chief operations officer at Buford Jasper Hampton Comprehensive Health Centers in South Carolina; Dr. Gary Puckrein, founder of the National Minority Quality Forum (NMQF); James Head, EBCF president/CEO; and Keshee Dozier-Smith, CEO of the Rural Health MediCal program in Selma, Alabama, comprised the expert panel.

The panelists not only underscored the various challenges that groups – both grassroots and professionals – encounter in trying to reach vaccine hesitant individuals, but also highlighted the significant successes made possible by the partnership between the agencies.

“We believe very strongly that increasing vaccinations will end this pandemic. We also believe that our standing in our communities and our strong partnership with community-based organizations will help prevent the further spread of COVID-19 that has disproportionately impacted communities of color,” said Ledesma, who added that Kaiser has invested $35 million to assist nonprofits across the U.S. in promoting vaccinations and distributing accurate information about the virus.

Thompson, who heads a mega-ministry in the Bay area, noted that the partnership allowed Allen Temple to augment the outreach work that the church was already doing.  The relationship with the other agencies led to access to additional data and tracking tools.

U.S. Rep. James Clyburn stressed his commitment to educating African Americans and minorities about the importance of the COVID-19 vaccines. (Cora J. Fossett/L.A. Sentinel)

“Because of this key connection with East Bay Community Foundation on this particular project right on our little church campus, we’ve been able to vaccinate 30,000 people and test over 50,000,” Thompson said. “And so we hope that’s an example to faith-based communities across the nation about the power of partnership, about the power of being forced outside of your doors, and to help do the things that enhance the holistic health of all of those that we are trying to benefit.”

A major roadblock to benefitting vaccine reluctant individuals is overcoming their lack of faith in getting inoculated, noted Brooks.  Although well-known supporters like U.S. Congresswomen Maxine Waters and Karen Bass publicized testing offered by his agency, Watts Healthcare Foundation, new COVID-19 cases still continued to rise in L.A.’s Black community.

“We knew that the community needed to hear relevant accurate information and they needed to be heard, they needed to have their concerns voiced to someone like us. There are those that did not trust the vaccine, did not trust getting tested,” he recalled.

Top executives discuss the results of their partnership to fight COVID-19 disinformation and persuade more Blacks to get vaccinated. (Cora J. Fossett/L.A. Sentinel)

“As opposed to dismissing them, this partnership allowed us to address their concerns [through] focus groups that we did. Also, we got data and now we have information that we can use to better our community,” said Brooks, the immediate past president of the National Medical Association and the past president of the California Immunization Coalition.

Comparable success was cited by Dozier-Smith, who used the funding provided by Kaiser to implement a COVID-19 testing and vaccination program along with hiring additional community health workers.

“This allowed us to see how important the patient engagement, the community partnerships and also the importance of establishing a workforce that is going to be very beneficial to sustain the work that we were able to do with this particular grant,” she explained.

“We see how beneficial it was relationship-building with those patients that are chronically ill, making sure that their primary care did not take a backseat because of COVID. We found ways, through using this funding, [to create] pop up clinics in their neighborhoods. We also partnered with local churches and when they were doing food programs, we would [offer] testing,” said Dozier-Smith, who also serves on her congressional district’s COVID-19 Advisory Board.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (File Photo)

As for future steps, Puckrein recommended exploring ways to maintain and build upon the partnership, which aligns with his organization’s mission of strengthening national and local efforts to use evidence- based and data-driven projects to eliminate preventable illnesses and deaths of racial and ethnic minorities.

To that end, NMQF reached out to Twitter for support and connected with its program, Twitter For Good. The platform contains many components to aid nonprofits including pro bono advertising credits, skills training on content and engagement, and assistance in promoting specific online campaigns.

With Twitter For Good, Puckrein said, “You’ll have some resources to support your social media activities and we’re going to do the same thing with Google because if we’ve learned anything

here, we have to also bring in social media and drown out some of the disinformation and unfiltered content that that’s coming out. From the National Minority Quality Forum standpoint, we want to help you.”

Offering the resources of his organization, the executive related, “We have a lot of data [that] we spent the last 20 years building a database of over five billion patient records. We know what’s happening in your zip code, we know how many people have diabetes and heart disease and cancer.  We have all of that data. We want to share it with you and the way we want to share it is by empowering the relationship that started here.”

The advice from EBCF President Head contained a reminder that since the pandemic will likely continue for the foreseeable future, ongoing health resources will be needed to rectify the disparities in BIPOC communities.   Fortunately, said Head, the partnership model can be tailored to mold community based organizations into trusted messengers.

“These organizations are doing this work on a daily basis.  They are aware community residents look for assistance for advice to be able to give input and these organizations listen,” said Head.

“So my hope is that we in philanthropy especially, but also in the governmental sector, that we will understand how the importance of community-based organizations has revealed itself.”