Sojourner’s Truth Staff
Frustrated by the disproportionate number of illnesses and deaths in the Black community due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the low number of vaccinations in the local area, a groups of prominent Black women organized an event on Tuesday, August 3, to attest to their commitment to vaccinations. They also announced their intention to get the word out that vaccinations are critically necessary to avoid the deaths that have devastated the Lucas County community.
The event, 100 Sistas Against COVID-19, took place in the parking lot of Nexus Healthcare, attended by an audience of about a hundred people, mainly women, who were interested in learning how they can spread the word about the importance of vaccinations.
“The women who pulled this event together support each other,” said Miller, the mistress of ceremonies, as she introduced the group to the audience and explained why they had decided to organize. “Twenty-eight percent – remember that number,” she added.
Those women are: Miller, CEO of Neighborhood Health Association; Deborah Barnett, founder/CEO of N-Sync; Lisa McDuffie, president/CEO of the YWCA of Northwest Ohio; Wendi Huntley, president of Connecting Kids to Meals; Vallie Bowman English, Clerk of Court of Toledo Municipal Court; Billie Johnson, president and CEO, Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio; Robin Reese, executive director Lucas County Children’s Services and Pharmacist Ireatha Hollie.
“Twenty eight percent is the number of black folks vaccinated in Lucas County,” said Miller. “Thirty-nine percent is the number in Ohio. We are dying from this disease. We are losing a generation of people. “
Miller noted that even before the pandemic, the Black community has experienced a disproportionate number of people to heart disease, diabetes, heart disease, among other ailments. In addition to the loss of babies due to the high infant mortality rate in the Black community.
“We have got to stand up for ourselves … we have got to do better,” she said.
Barnett also iterated the need for the Black community to take control of its own health outcomes as she urged people to get vaccinated and to spread the word that vaccines are both safe and necessary for the general health.
“When sistas get together they can make things happen and we are helping to stop the spread of COVID-19, particularly in the Black community. We have only 28 percent vaccinated – health disparities in the Black community make us more susceptible. We have a responsibility. We must make a plan to stop its spread. We encourage you to make the vaccine your first choice. Join us in doing your part to keep Toledo healthy.”
State Rep. Paula Hicks-Hudson also iterated the theme that the Black community must act and act swiftly on its own.
“We understand what we must do,” she said. “Myths and lies have been told to us – 28 percent is a downright pitiful number … we have an opportunity for Black lives to truly matter.
“We are mud made and if we are mud made, we know we got to get up out of the mud and clean ourselves off,” said the former mayor.
Kerri Kaye King died of COVID-19 on June 3 – exactly two months before the 100 Sistas event. King’s mother, Dr. Anita Lewis Sewell, MD, addressed that tragedy and spoke of her daughter’s difficult and unnecessary passing.
King, a nurse, did not receive the vaccine, said Dr. Sewell, she was skeptical. “I think they made it too fast,” she told her mother. Unfortunately, King was at high risk; she had diabetes, was overweight, had sleep apnea and had had a pulmonary embolism.
“She contracted COVID in mid-April,” said Dr. Sewell, “and was on a ventilator when her son graduated from high school. All we have left is memories.” Addressing the audience she said, “I don’t want you to go home to look at pictures of loved ones and know that’s all you have left.”
“Get vaccinated; get vaccinated; get vaccinated,” she implored the attendees.
Also speaking on Tuesday were Tina Butts, founder of the Movement, which has made extraordinary attempts to make people aware of the need to get the vaccines – holding events and knocking on doors. “The Movement is in the community trying to educate – we did whatever it took; it’s our duty to do what we can,” said Butts.
Also speaking were Rogers High School/University of Michigan basketball player, Akienreh Johnson, who is headed overseas to start her professional basketball career, and Pharmacist Ireatha Hollie.
Hollie urged listeners to reach out to their family and friends and reassure them that reliance on the vaccines is a matter of “knowledge and testimony based on fact.”
The facts are that the vaccines are effective, said the pharmacist and even if some discomfort should result, “side effects are better than death.”