‘We are dying:’ Local Women Urge Black Community to get vaccine

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‘We are dying:’ Local Women Urge Black Community to get vaccine

Categories: News

‘We are dying:’ Local women urge Black community to get vaccine

Brooks Sutherland, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio

Tue, August 3, 2021, 11:07 PM·5 min read

Aug. 3—Speaking to a crowd of dozens of people who showed up to downtown Toledo Tuesday to hear about the importance of getting the coronavirus vaccine, Dr. Anita Lewis-Sewell began by pulling out a small recorder and pushing play.

The crowd sat in silence as they listened to sounds of white noise associated with a ventilator and a few audible thumps.

“Those are the last sounds of my daughter’s heartbeat,” the physician said at the “100 Sistas Against COVID-19” event held in the Nexus Healthcare parking lot on Jefferson Avenue.

Dr. Sewell had shared with the attendees recorded audio of the final heartbeats of her daughter Kerri Kaye King, a Toledo native with two children, who died from coronavirus on June 3. She was 49.

Ms. King did not receive the vaccine. She was skeptical about the drug, which has emergency-use authorization from the U.S Food and Drug Administration, and procrastinated getting a shot, her mother said. But after she contracted the virus that has killed more than 600,000 Americans, and struggled to recover her breathing while in the hospital, she texted her son Aaron and urged him to get the vaccine, Dr. Sewell said. In a powerful address to the crowd, Dr. Sewell pleaded for community members to not let “her story become your story.”

“I do believe that if she had been vaccinated, she would still be here with us,” she said.

Sitting in the crowd, Dr. Sewell’s sister Diana Hughes, who came back to her hometown Toledo from Missouri City, Texas, to spend time with her sister and family and help out during a period of grief, displayed a picture of Ms. King as her mother gave an emotional address to the crowd. The way her niece died unexpectedly had been hard on her family, Ms. Hughes said.

“This was a person that was healthy, and alive, and vibrant, and free-spirited,” she said. “One day she was here, and the next day she was gone. “…It has really shocked everybody that at her age, something like this could happen.”

Like her niece, who was in the hospital for six weeks and placed on a ventilator for the last two weeks, Ms. Hughes too was hesitant about getting the vaccine at first before she relented. She now hopes her family’s story can encourage people to receive the vaccine and stop future preventable deaths from occurring.

“I’m telling others to get vaccinated when I didn’t think I would ever say that,” she said.

The event was organized by a group of local women who hope to combat disinformation surrounding the vaccine, and turn the tide on area vaccination rates, particularly within the Black community, which has a low vaccination rate in Lucas County.

“Twenty-eight percent. That’s the number of Black folks who are vaccinated in Lucas County, and that is the number as of this morning,” said Doni Miller, chief executive officer of the Neighborhood Health Association, who helped organize the event. “That means any time there are four of you together, probably three of you are not vaccinated.”

Ms. Miller pointed to the significant number of health disparities that exist in the African-American community and urged attendees to take preventable steps to deal with another plague disproportionately impacting minorities: the pandemic.

“We are dying from this disease,” she said. “But you know, this is not the only disease that we are dying from, and since I have you all here together, and you are all within the sound of my voice, I want to say to you, we are losing not just a generation of people, we are losing huge communities of people.”

Other speakers included: local census coordinator Deborah Barnett, state. Rep. Paula Hicks-Hudson, The Movement founder Tina Butts, former Rogers High School and University of Michigan basketball player Akienreh Johnson, and Young Women’s Christian Association Northwest Ohio board member Ireatha Hollie.

“We met, we talked via zoom, and we said, ‘We need to take a stand in our community,'” Ms. Barnett said. “We need to speak out to our community, the Black community, regarding helping stop the spread of COVID-19.'”

After the event, NHA offered free vaccines to anyone willing to take them.

It sparked one woman, 25-year-old Olivia McGowan of Bowling Green, to get the vaccine. Ms. McGowan said she had been skeptical about how fast the vaccine was created, and news of the temporary pause of Johnson & Johnson vaccines due to blood clot concerns back in April. But hearing powerful testimony, and relenting to her mother’s desire for her to receive a shot, Ms. McGowan received a Moderna vaccine Tuesday, and pressed others to do the same.

“Just wearing a mask is not enough anymore,” she said. “With all of the people who have lost their lives, I just wanted to do my part to make sure my kids, and my neighbors, and people I work with, don’t get it.”

Ms. McGowan said hearing Dr. Sewell tell the tragic story of her daughter’s death due to contracting the novel disease on Tuesday helped push her to want to do her part to prevent the spread.

“That was really sad,” she said. “And it persuaded me. I feel like sometimes people are OK with something until it hits you personally, and then it really affects you differently. And I don’t want to have to be in a similar situation.”

Ms. Hollie closed the event with one final request: for attendees to share the information presented Tuesday to at least five other people and encourage vaccinations.

“This morning we have provided you both knowledge and testimony,” she said. “Now it’s up to each of you to make a conscious decision based on facts, not misinformation … Twenty-eight percent, let’s make it 82 percent.”