By Vivian Shipe
KNOXVILLE, TN — It’s been 15 months since Cynthia Finch and Gwen McKenzie sat down to develop a plan to educate the Black churches about the dangers of going back into their
sanctuaries in the height of the COVID 19 surge.
Forty church leaders representing thousands of African Americans were on that first call. In the year and a half since the weekly one hour meetings began on Thursday evenings, the number of those educated and vaccinated has grown to over 180 organizations across the state and the nation, raising the numbers of those vaccinated, tested, and informed with the facts to over 80,000 and counting.
The meetings have put the African American churches on the fore front with first hand
information about COVID and vaccine issues as top subject matter experts from the CDC, Washington DC, and other national leaders have joined the calls week after week . Most recently the Chief Medical Officer of East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville, Dr. Joseph Childs joined the call to speak of the number of children filling the hospitals with COVID -19.
Others have brought information straight to this group first, a group who was determined “not to
be left behind” and who are instead, leading the way as subject matter experts like, Dr. Keith Gray, Chief Medical Officer – UT Medical Center. Dr. William Smith, CEO & Scientist, AMR – Alliance Multi speciality Research. Dr. Ken Taylor, MD, Epidemiologist, Atlanta, GA, and Jennifer Holden, and Kathy Mack – City of Knoxville, Housing and Community Sustainability support have shared facts every week.
The journey has been like no other ever seen or attempted. Finch shared the following statement:
“The Faith Leaders Church Initiative has been a coalition movement of faith leaders of all walks. It has created a synergy in our community like nothing before. Various level of people and professionals engaging in a conversation about real baseline community issues. Issues around health care, economics, faith and networking. A diverse volunteer base has been created. New levels of leadership have been created. People whose paths would never have crossed are talking to each other. This coalition can be sustained because it’s been a year and we are still together.
Finch also spoke of community care. She said, “We have continually been working together, talking and taking care of our community. The 3 T’s. First it was the 3 P’s – Planning, Preparing and Praying. Next, it was the 3 V’s – Volunteers, Venues = Vaccines. At the end of the day that’s what Community is about “Taking Care of Each Other. Listen, this work has saved life’s. I feel fulfilled as a health care clinician. I just feel “Blessed”. Our community is blessed because of our work.”
The next level in the COVID war by the Initiative begins next week and involves holding virtual town hall meetings to educate about the vaccine and the new variants. Anyone is welcome to join the zoom.
The weekly vaccine clinics held by the Initiative are now also prepping to begin giving the third booster shots to those immune compromised.