Tents line the parking lot ready to test over 500 people. Courtesy photo

By Vivian Shipe

KNOXVILLE, TN —  “We are saving over 500 lives.” Those were the words of C.O.N.N.E.C.T Ministries Program Director Cynthia Finch as she looked down Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue at the long line of cars, full of people, many of whom waited over two hours to get their free COVID-19 test. The test was an oral swab with results promised in five days. No one needed insurance, an appointment or even identification; all they had to do was come. And come they

Traffic shut down all entrances as cars lined up for testing hours before the doors opened.
Photo by Vivian Shipe


There had been an outcry for more testing to be done in the inner city. The closest testing for the area had been done at the Civic Coliseum months back, but was over five miles away from the Burlington community and outlying areas off Asheville Highway. 

The need for testing in the primarily African American community, which is being adversely affected by the virus, created a sense of urgency for community leaders.

A call to action resulted in a partnership between Greater Warner Tabernacle AME Zion church,  C.O.N.N.E.C.T Ministries, I AM The Voice of the Voiceless, New Direction Health Care

Shown l-r; Rev. Cleo Brooks of Greater Warner, Cynthia Finch, and Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie. Photo by Vivian Shipe

Solutions, and Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie. They finally convinced the Knox County Health Department to come into the community. On a hot Thursday afternoon on July 16th, with temperatures in the mid-90s from one until five pm, the testing began in the parking lot of Greater Warner. The test was administered via drive thru or walk up. The people started lining up in their cars at 11 am; so many desired testing. The line backed up to the interstate off Asheville Highway and down five miles back towards down- town Knoxville. So many cars coming from both directions resulted in the Knoxville Police Department having to set up traffic control .

Greater Warner sits in the heart of East Knoxville in the Burlington community. The church, the oldest African American church in Knoxville; has long spearheaded efforts to serve the community. The

Church members prepare for food giveaway, done weekly by Greater Warner, also was held
during testing. Photo submitted

COVID-19 testing done on their parking lot is one of many free services they have been offering for years. At the same time the testing was going on; the church was also holding going home services for a community member and ran their weekly food pantry giveaway which serves hundreds. 

Rev. Cleo Brooks, Senior Pastor, was also in the parking lot helping to serve the people and remarked they needed to hold another drive thru testing to help even more people as they had to turn away a few and end the testing at 4:30 pm when the test ran out.