Every Sunday, I look out at the faces of my congregation, and I am grateful that we have overcome the many challenges we have faced over the past few years. At the same time, I am also reminded of all the beautiful souls we have lost to COVID-19. The pandemic has upended the lives of many in our community, and the residual effects are still being felt.
As pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles (FAME), the oldest African American church in the city, I have always strived to lead my members to health and prosperity. But nothing could have prepared us for the challenges of the pandemic, which affected every aspect of our church — from how we conducted services to how we communed with people.
But the church leadership and I knew it was our calling to take on COVID-19 and protect our flock. Over the years, we have continued to learn and evolve our approaches to address the overall health, social and educational needs of our parishioners and the larger South LA community.
Although we have made it through the most difficult period of the pandemic, COVID-19 remains a threat to our loved ones, especially Black communities in California who have been disproportionately impacted by the virus.
According to the Los Angeles County Public Health Department, Black residents in Los Angeles County were twice as likely to be hospitalized with COVID–19 as white residents, and one–and–a–half times more likely to die from the virus. These disparities are unacceptable, and we must work to reduce them. Now, with COVID-19 vaccines and treatments widely available, we have the tools we need to protect ourselves and our loved ones from serious illnesses and deaths. We can return to doing the things and seeing the people we love.
Our initial focus was to prevent COVID-19 exposure, but sometimes this was not always possible. Now, we are shifting priorities to making sure our members know what to do if they test positive. Although they are free, widely available, and effective, COVID-19 medications have been relatively unknown within my community. We are starting to integrate initiatives to raise awareness around COVID-19 medications into our other long-standing programs to support our community members who test positive. Scientific evidence shows that when COVID-19 medications are taken within the first week of testing positive, they can prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and death by half or more. Timing is crucial as most of the medications must be taken within the first 5 days for symptoms to work.
To address these issues, we have had to overcome many barriers, one of the biggest being my community’s mistrust of the medical system due to generations of racism and mistreatment. We have worked hard to educate about COVID-19 safety and rebuild trust in the medical system. We have also partnered with other trusted entities and organizations like the University of Southern California and Jewish congregations to share resources, materials, and knowledge to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. We have made it a priority to educate those close to us about the resources and tools available to stay safe and protect ourselves, including vaccines and treatments.
As COVID-19 remains present in our communities, we continue to step up to protect our community. The good news is that we know what works. Our church has worked to increase awareness, trust, and utilization of COVID-19 services, including hosting teachable Thursdays, that highlight influential medical professionals to discuss vaccination benefits, side effects, and other important information about COVID-19. Additionally, we opened a wellness center to create a welcoming and trusting environment for those in the community, operated by community members to provide necessary services that address COVID-19, such as vaccinations, testing, and education around COVID-19 medications.
We invite and welcome all Angelenos who have questions or need support to come and access these services.
Overcoming challenges that Black communities here in Los Angeles and throughout California have faced due to COVID-19 has not been easy. However, through hard work, listening to our community, and the power of prayer, we have found ways to win over the virus. After all, prayers are powerful, but even more so when paired with COVID-19 medications.
To learn more about COVID-19 medications, visit YouCanBeatIt.org.
The Rev. Edgar Boyd is pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles. Under his leadership, FAME is working to address the health, social and educational needs of parishioners and the surrounding community.