I took the shot!

“I TOOK THE SHOT Campaign” hopes to persuade 75 percent of eligible African-Americans to get vaccinated.


“Over 50 years ago, my followers and I at the Center for a United Black Community made a solemn pledge to develop our minds and bodies to the greatest extent possible, and to keep ourselves healthy and fit in order that we might best protect our people, our community, our neighborhoods, and institutions, our families and ourselves whenever we were called upon,” said Imam Askia Muhammad Aquil, a respected  community activist and faith leader and the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Collective Empowerment Group of the Tampa Bay Area, Inc. (CEGTBA).

“COVID-19 is a deadly threat to people around the globe and especially so to African Americans because of the well-documented health disparities that affect so many of us,” he continued.

CEGTBA is a nonprofit designed as a “Big Tent” collaborative for the primary purpose of building community wealth by engendering a common vision throughout the faith-based and community development sectors leveraging the immeasurable resources, skills and talents indigenous to African American communities.

In addition to health consequences and death, the COVID-19 virus has caused furloughs, layoffs, shutdown of places of worship and businesses, as well as ongoing incalculable personal and economic hardships.

Consequently, with the support of the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg and many community partners, CEGTBA has strategically shifted its focus and energies toward halting the spread of COVID-19 and defeating it long term by mobilizing its resources and encouraging maximum adherence to CDC Guidelines, Florida and Pinellas County mandates, and creative strategies that are consistent with science and research-proven best practices.

The “I TOOK THE SHOT Campaign” is one such strategy led by the CEGTBA.

“Defeating the COVID-19 pandemic and its disparate impact on vulnerable populations and communities thoughtfully, comprehensively, sustainably and equitably is a prerequisite to rebuilding our local and national economies while building community wealth,” said Aquil.

According to the Center for Disease Control, there are now over 24.3 million cases of Covid-19 cases in the U. S.  There are over 1.6 million cases in the state of Florida and over 55,000 cases in Pinellas County. Of those in Pinellas County, it is estimated that black residents are 2.5 times more likely to contract COVID-19.

This is indisputably the most prominent health equity issue of our times.  According to a report issued by the Florida Department of Health, as of Jan. 20, 2021, 53,525 doses of the COVID-19 Vaccine have been administered in Pinellas County. Of that number, 2,536 (less than five percent) have been administered to black or African American residents.  Blacks or African Americans comprise 11.1 percent of the county’s population.

Preliminary analysis indicates that several factors are contributing to the unacceptably low turnout. First of all, the high level of resistance, distrust, and fear has not been effectively countered. Secondly, information is not reaching willing eligible priority residents in a clear and timely manner.  Third, appointments are mandatory to get the vaccine.

Appointments are given after a somewhat complicated registration process for those who may not be as computer literate or who may have limited access to internet services. Ambitiously, the “I TOOK THE SHOT Campaign” hopes to persuade 75% of eligible African-Americans to get vaccinated.

It begins with data, says Dr. Katurah Jenkins-Hall, a clinical psychologist who specializes in program evaluation research and is a community volunteer for this project.  We recently surveyed 175 African American adults from 18-65 plus and discovered patterns that will help drive the campaign.

One of the questions asked was, “If given the opportunity, would you take the COVID-19 vaccination?”  Of 51 respondents over the age of 65, only one was undecided about taking the shot. Everyone else (99 percent) said they would take it, or they had already taken it.  Contrast this with only 38 percent of persons 25-34 they would take it. In fact, the data shows that as age increases, so does confidence in the vaccination.

“Our opportunity for influencing minds lies with the approximately 36 percent in their 40s and 50s who are undecided or who are saying “No” to taking the shot at this time,” said Aquil. Of those who are undecided, 25 percent report that they need more time to consider any adverse side-effects associated with the vaccines.

“Time could be a deciding factor that will persuade our next priority group to step up and take the shot,” reports Jenkins-Hall.

The “I TOOK THE SHOT Campaign” will raise the level of awareness among the targeted populations through a strategic information dissemination and multi-tiered marketing initiatives utilizing existing inter and intra faith-based communication networks, neighborhood associations, community-based organizations, print media, social media, production of culturally sensitive infomercials, signage, street-level and door-to-door outreach, and other strategies.

One such strategy is to recruit “influencers” to help overcome hesitancy to getting vaccinated. Here is what our 65 plus community influencers have to say in response to the questions: Why did you take the shot? And, do you think others should take it?

“I consulted with my doctor after following the vaccine research and studies, then took the first and second shots. I will not sit on my hands with my eyes glued to the TV set and allow this COVID-19 threat to go unchallenged — NOT ON MY WATCH!”

Imam Askia Muhammad Aquil, “I TOOK THE SHOT Campaign,” Director

Activist, social reformer and community builder, Islamic faith leader, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Collective Empowerment Group of the Tampa Bay Area, Inc. (CEGTBA).

“I believe in taking the necessary precautions to prevent the exposure of my family, friends, military, co-workers, church members and others to this dreadful disease. My desire is that everyone would be safe and for our community to listen to the scientists.  As a retired nurse, I understand the importance of reaching our elderly and those with co-morbidity (other diseases). These are our most vulnerable.”

Brigadier General Dr. Carrie Nero, USAR (RET)

Founder of Office of Minority Health, Pinellas County Health Department

“The reasons I took the shot are simple. I TRUST GOD and I believe in science.  I encourage my congregation to get vaccinated. It is better to live having taken the shot, rather than to die not having taken it. The benefits far outweigh the risks.”

Rev. Dr. Wayne G. Thompson

Pastor, First Baptist Institutional Church

“I’ve taken both doses of the vaccination and I had no hesitancy. The alternative is too drastic and possibly fatal. Vaccinations have always been part of our lives (measles, chickenpox, mumps), our parents lined us up for them because they loved us and wanted to keep us safe. Vaccinations are the only way to get ahead of this pandemic. It is the only way we promote safety and security for ourself, our family, community, nation, and the world.”

Gwendolyn D. Reese

Chief Executive Officer of Peaten Reese Peaten Consultant, Inc.

“I am a COVID-19 advocate and I campaign for all black persons to get vaccinated when they become eligible. I believe taking the shot myself will speak volumes and add credibility to influence others to do the same. While I do sympathize with and understand why many black citizens are reluctant to take the shot, the statistics show an advantage to those who get vaccinations over those who do not. “

Larry Butler

Social Services Officer, Jordan Park Apartments, St. Petersburg Housing Authority

“The pandemic is devastating and the Black American community needs to protect itself from this very infectious and deadly disease.  Fear should be put aside and practicality and judgment put in its place. I took both shots of the vaccine because I knew the vaccine would give a person of my age group protection from the virus.  I took it because I want to live my life out of lock-down and have the ability to visit my daughter, my son-in-law, my grandchildren, my family and my friends and not be afraid of contracting and spreading the virus.  I will continue to wear a mask when outside of my home and follow the CDC guidelines and the science.  I urge all people to do the same.”

Attorney Jacqueline Williams Hubbard

President, Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Inc. (ASALH)

“As a role model, advocate, leader, and servant to our community, I took the shot to lead our community by example. I am also a firm believer in family. I took the shot for my community and my family. I love them both.”

Carl R. Lavender, Jr.

Chief Equity Officer, Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg

“I have received both vaccines. I had absolutely no side effects either time, Thank God!

Initially, I was a doubter as some still are. My answer came through prayer and I know my decision was God-directed. I chose to be vaccinated for self-protection and the protection of others. In the midst of this pandemic, we must resolve to step out on faith and not allow fear to hinder progress. I encourage others to pray; look deep within yourself; and for those with serious medical conditions, consult your physician. Getting vaccinated is an important step in ending this pandemic! In the words of my pastor, the Rev. Wayne G. Thompson, ‘We must follow science and TRUST GOD’!”

Thelma Bruce

Retired Clinical Social Worker, Sixth Judicial Circuit Court

National Council of Negro Women, Inc. (NCNW), St. Petersburg Metropolitan Section

“I decided to take the vaccine after listening carefully to the respected experts and believing that the efficacy rate was quite substantial.  I wholeheartedly agree with the importance of others to be vaccinated. We need for everyone in our community to understand and appreciate their value to family, friends, and the community. TRUST THE SCIENCE AND PROTECT YOURSELVES.”

Ray Tampa, Former President, NAACP St. Petersburg Chapter

Retired Pinellas County School Principal

“I’ve taken the COVID-19 vaccine to further protect myself from the devastating vestiges of this deadly disease. I’m 67 years old and I have a few underlying health conditions that lead me to believe that I would become seriously ill if I were to get Coronavirus. Also, I trust the scientific data and I’ve been vaccinated against various viruses practically all of my life. These include Polio, Measles, Mumps, Pneumonia, Hepatitis A and the annual Flu vaccine.  I feel it’s vitally important for me and people who look like me to get the vaccine because evidence shows that Coronavirus has a disparate impact on people of color, and we’re more likely to be hospitalized and/or die from the virus.”

Theresa Jones

Manager, Veterans, Homeless and Social Services Department, City of St. Petersburg, Florida

“I took the vaccination because I believe that such action is in the best interest of myself, my family, and the community.  It is also the best advice from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the leading scientific body. Despite the hesitancy of some in our communities, I believe it is essential for others to be vaccinated for the same reasons—especially those from the African American and Hispanic communities which the pandemic has disproportionately impacted.”

Dr. Ricardo A. Davis, D.B.A.

President, Concerned Organization for Quality Education of Black Students, Inc. (COQEBS)

“I believed that for my personal welfare and the safety and health of loved ones and friends around me that it was important for me to take the vaccine.  My strong religious beliefs and science both have guided my decision. While I recognize some of the horrific experiments and events of the past have adversely affected black people, I believe this is to be a necessary antidote for preservation of health and life in our community and world.  I believe that there are many who can be trusted navigators, influencers and friends to our community.   These collaborative efforts against COVID-19 can be transformational, creating new bonds and relationships that will sustain and change our world.”

Dr. Willie B. Felton, Jr.

Adjunct instructor and faculty mentor, St. Petersburg College, Midtown

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