Community organizers in Middle Tennessee who normally focus on preventing violence are shifting their attention, at least partially, to promoting vaccines. Uptake on COVID shots still lags among many groups who’ve historically been underserved by the health care system.
Black communities still have more than their fair share of suspicion about the COVID vaccine, says Sharon K. Edwards of I Am Invisible Bullying And Suicide nonprofit in Clarksville. So she brings up her 12-day stay in the hospital last November, when she nearly died.
“They’ve got pictures of me in the hospital. It still sometimes doesn’t hit them,” she says.
The most recent state-by-state analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that Black Tennesseans make up a smaller share of the state’s vaccinations and a larger share of the COVID cases and deaths.
Edwards says she’s spending lots of time preaching COVID shots while also confronting bullying and suicide in schools. It’s a job she does remotely at this point as she still endures some lingering symptoms from COVID.
Right now, the pandemic is more important than many critical issues, says Clemmie Greenlee. The 62-year-old organizer leads the anti-violence nonprofit Nashville Peacemakers.
Greenlee was recently released from a Saint Thomas ICU after surviving a breakthrough COVID case. She has a suppressed immune system from the medication she takes related to an organ transplant, so the vaccine didn’t provide total protection — but it still kept her alive.
She says she’s done making soft suggestions. Greenlee is railing on the choice between getting a shot or risking lives.
“If you don’t want the embalming fluid, then you’ll take their fluid. I choose their fluid,” she says. “I am a-million-percent begging everybody to get the vaccine.”
But she acknowledges some will never listen. “At least stay away from your granny,” she tell them.
Nashville’s community safety coordinator, Ron Johnson, says people who won’t take the vaccine can still do their part.
“If you are against it, just put your mask on,” he says. “At least have some form of protection as opposed to nothing. Nothing tells me you either don’t care about yourself, you don’t care about others or all of the above.”