Faith Leaders Initiative Co-founder Cynthia Finch heads across the grounds of the vaccine clinic that administered over 700 shots.

By Vivian Shipe

KNOXVILLE, TN — When this  edition of the Tennessee Tribune hits the street this week,  it will mark exactly one year ago that an alarm was sounded by two of Knoxville’s most dedicated community advocates.

Since May 1, 2020, every Thursday, with the exception of Christmas week, from five to six pm. Cynthia Finch, Director of New Directions Health Care Solutions and Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie have led a group of faith leaders and organizations that has grown to over 180 state and

Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie helps with consent forms at the vaccine clinics. Photos by Vivian Shipe

nationwide in a battle against COVID-19.

The group, named the Faith Leaders Initiative, was started to educate churches about the dangers of going back into their sanctuaries too soon at what was then the height of the pandemic. The group which initially had around 40 to 50 participants, began meeting by tele-conference and eventually moved to a Zoom format.

Other leaders joined and became major players who have stayed in the army of volunteers that has steadily grown over the year. One of the strongest advocates for the community has been Dr. Keith Gray, Chief Medical Officer of U.T. Medical Center. Dr. Gray and the team from the hospital were the initial providers of vaccine for the vaccine clinics which began in the Black churches to make sure African Americans were able to get their shot. 

Subject matter experts from across the country have joined the calls and the news of what was going on in Knoxville even spread across the world with the BBC doing an interview about “Cynthia’s  List,” a process developed by Finch to gather the names and numbers of African Americans to give to the health department to make sure they were on the shot list.

Like a well-oiled machine, vaccine clinics are now held weekly by the Initiative. Volunteers from all types of organizations now help with the clinics. The latest put shots in the arms of 700+ over the weekend in less than eight hours. The team plans to begin evening clinics in the coming weeks to accommodate day shift workers unable to get the shot.

As the country begins to open up, shots will continue by the Initiative as recovery begins and vaccine is made available thru more sources.

The mantra is, ‘’We will NOT be left behind.” With over 6,000 shots in the arms of Knoxville’s most vulnerable thanks to Finch and McKenzie, and thanks to an army of volunteers from all walks of life, the war is slowly being won against an unseen enemy called COVID-19.