OpEd By: Reverend T. E. Simmons
(Greenville, SC) – The Reedy Fork Baptist Church seeks to collaborate with community churches, our Healthcare Systems, the Center for Disease Control, and other entities to reach the vulnerable, the underserved and those disproportionately affected by the virus in the south Greenville communities.
A legacy of malpractice and misinformation from the medical community has left many black Americans with a lack of trust in anything that now comes from the medical community. In today’s COVID-19 era, that distrust has led to vaccine hesitancy within our communities.
Over the course of the past year, the COVID-19 virus has taken the lives of over five hundred thousand people across our country. A disproportionate number of those affected around the country are Black, Brown, and poor people, regardless of state, county, city, or town. In comparison to our white counterparts, African Americans have contracted the virus at a higher rate, died at a higher rate, been hospitalized at a higher rate, and experienced a slower recovery than our white counterparts. Plus, we’re less likely to get tested or receive the vaccine.
That is why it is critical that Reedy Fork Baptist Church and other black churches and faith-based entities along with community organizations be identified as COVID-19 vaccination sites.
As further evidence, DataNgine Consulting LLC recently conducted an analysis of the geographical locations of churches and the proximity to African American populations across the country that revealed churches could be a huge asset in the race to vaccination.
Using the Geographic Names Information System, when churches were mapped, it becomes obvious that the prevalence of churches throughout minority communities make them ideal locations for vaccination sites that are already strategically situated in areas in dire need of access to the vaccine.
If you look at South Greenville for example, a quick review of the most recent voter registration data reveals that approximately 39% of registered African Americans 50 or older live within a 5 mile radius of Reedy Fork Baptist Church.
Similar findings can be seen in rural minority communities across the state and country, so why not leverage churches to address vaccine hesitancy? Churches can also provide transportation to and from the vaccination site as well as provide technical assistance to register online for the vaccination.
When churches are leveraged as a community resource they can elevate an entire community. I’ve seen it with my own eyes in the thirty-seven years that I’ve served as pastor at the Reedy Fork church. Our church established its footprint in the South Greenville agricultural community of Reedy Fork in the late 1850’s. Over the course of the past three decades, the congregation has grown to over five hundred members.
Through our church’s vision to Create a Culture of Christ through Love, we’ve committed ourselves to serving the community and have become a safe haven in the community by serving as a certified Red Cross Disaster Relief Shelter, a polling place for voters, a CDC testing and Influenza vaccination site, a blood donation site for the American Red Cross, and a gathering place for the community. In the spirit of continuing this level of service to people who need it most, it is important that we, along with other black churches in the community, be identified as COVID-19 vaccination sites.
That is why I’m asking that black churches and other faith-based entities along with community leaders to join Reedy Fork Baptist Church in our call to have faith-based organizations serve as vaccination sites.
Together, we can combat health disparities in the Greenville area and reach within our communities to educate and provide opportunities for black, brown, and poor constituents to receive their shot in the arm.
About Reverend T. E. Simmons
Reverend T. E. Simmons is the pastor of Reedy Fork Baptist Church of Simpsonville, South Carolina. He is a native of Aiken county. Rev. Simmons is a graduate of South Carolina State University of Orangeburg and a 1990 graduate of the Interdenominational Theological Center—Morehouse School of Religion of Atlanta, Georgia. Reverend Simmons is affiliated with the Reedy River Baptist Association and its auxiliaries, the Baptist E & M Convention of South Carolina, and the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc. and its auxiliaries. Presently he serves as Member of the Prisma Health System Minority Advisory Committee, Board Chairman of the Reedy Fork Center for Community Development, and Prisma Health Board of Directors.