By Vivian Shipe
KNOXVILLE, TN — With those words, The African American Health Care Clinician Workgroup, along with founders, Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie and Cynthia Finch, and sponsors, New Direction Healthcare Solutions, C.O.N.N.E.C.T. Ministries, Faith Leaders Initiative, and I AM The Voice of the Voiceless, took their place on the steps of the Jacob Building in Knoxville as the clock struck high noon on Martin Luther King Day.
The leaders on the stairs, 40 strong, represented more than 180 religious, political, medical, and community individuals and organizations in Knoxville and from across the state of Tennessee, who have joined forces to encourage people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The group, which has been meeting every Thursday via teleconference and now zoom; since May 1st, consist of doctors, nurses, social workers, mental health workers, and volunteers.
They are not alone in their effort to reach the adversely affected African American population. Helping to lead the charge are President Sam Brown and the NAACP, the Black nursing sorority, Chi Eta Phi, and the Divine Nine, members of the African American Sororities and Fraternities.
Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie, who was joined on the steps by her husband State Representative Sam McKenzie, said “The Faith Leaders Initiative was started back in May of 2020. It was devised to be able to help disseminate accurate and pertinent information to our faith leaders, as they have the resources in the African American community to be able to get information out.’’
Cynthia Finch, who co founded the Initiative with the vice – mayor spoke passionately about the need to save lives and the past tendency to leave out the African American community as such happened in Nashville when Meharry Medical College was by passed in the initial vaccine disbursement. “We as an African American community, we as people of color, we the broken, the underserved, the underrepresented, we will not be left out, we are going to be part of the process, “ Finch said. “We want to be at the table. As my grandmother used to say, if you are not invited to the table, just set your own. So today, we have set our own table.”
Leading by example to gain public trust, several of Knoxville’s leaders have stepped forward and taken the shot and are publicly sharing their results and how they are feeling as they go thru the two shot series. Joining Finch, who just received her 2nd shot is Dr. Keith Gray, with UT Medical Center, Vivian Shipe with I AM The Voice of the Voiceless , Keira Wyatt Director of CONNECT, and Dr. Joseph “Papa Joe” Kendrick, owner of Ashville Highway Animal Clinic who said, “I had the shot several days ago. I had a sore arm , that’s it. Not glowing in the dark yet, and nothing has turned blue. And so I think I am doing ok and I would encourage everyone to trust the science.”