By John W. Davis
Bishop T.D. Jakes believes there’s power in faith, but it is time for action to end the COVID-19 pandemic, once and for all.
“Trouble doesn’t last always but trauma holds on for a while… the church is needed now more than ever before,” said Jakes, who leads The Potter’s House church in Dallas and the T.D. Jakes Foundation. “Ministry helps with (COVID stress and trauma).”
A diverse group of faith and community leaders met on May 20 for a virtual panel entitled, “Finishing the Race.” The central message discussed what the church needs to know about COVID-19 vaccines and access.
The conversation focused on information and inspiration and also touched on the importance of vaccine education and what advocates can do to make communities of color healthier.
“I think things have changed considerably (at the Potter’s House). We have gone from preaching to an empty room to a partially filled room,” said Jakes, before explaining how he’s planning to open up his church in stages to his congregation.
Jakes headlined the panel along with notable guest speakers like award-winning gospel singer Kierra Sheard-Kelly; Dr. Reed Tuckson, the founder of the Black Coalition Against COVID-19; and Dr. Marcela Nunez-Smith, the chair of the U.S. COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force.
“I was that person that was on the fence,” said Kierra Sheard-Kelly. “I lost my grandmother to COVID.”
After talking to her grandfather, cousin, doctor, and nurse, she decided to get vaccinated.
“Make an educated decision… exhaust your options and don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Sheard-Kelly said.
At this point, adults have had access to the COVID-19 vaccine for several weeks, if not months now. The number of Black people who have been vaccinated is far behind White people, according to medical experts.
“We have to lead with empathy and compassion,” said Charysse Nunez with the AD Council.
Meanwhile, Tuckson, the former president of the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in the Willowbrook neighborhood of South Los Angeles, said that in his professional medical opinion, being vaccinated is the best and only way for the Black community can protect itself.
“(As of Wednesday, May 19) 48 percent of Americans have had at least one vaccine dose, 38 percent have been fully vaccinated,” said Tuckson, who is focused on getting Black people vaccinated.
The White House has set a goal that 70 percent of all Americans will be vaccinated by July 4. Ultimately, it is up to unvaccinated members of the Black community to educate themselves if they have questions or reservations.
“These (vaccines) didn’t just pop up yesterday,” said Nunez-Smith, the chair of the U.S. COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. “We feel more comfortable gathering in houses of worship when we know everyone is vaccinated.”
The decision to be vaccinated is a personal choice. Jakes said he knows why some people are leery but countered by suggesting that people should rely on their own doctors for medical expertise.
“Go to credible places like blackdoctor.org… talk to your local physician,” said Jakes, who added that he personally has faith in COVID vaccines. He and other faith leaders said it is important for people to be selfless right now by putting the needs of their loved ones ahead of personal reluctance.
“Make a decision that’s health-conscious, not only your own health but the health of others,” Jakes said. “Don’t politicize this.”
Jakes summarized his message by talking about the importance of the church in the nation’s ongoing recovery. Others agreed, saying with all of the fear and loss that has been experienced in Black and Brown neighborhoods during the pandemic, seeking ongoing spiritual guidance will be key. Resources are available at BlackFaithVaccineToolkit.org.