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Black People Lag Behind Others Seeking Covid-19 Vaccination By Cassiette West-Williams

They came by the carload, van load, and busload. They were on foot, running and walking, to the same door I was approaching, only at a faster speed than I could handle with my walking cane.

I looked around and asked aloud, with my grandson (because I don’t talk to myself out loud in public) and asked, “Where are the Black folks at? Where are my people?” He said, “At home. White folks done took their spots!”

Puzzled, I replied, “Did they take their spots or did we just give them away? There must be some mistake here.”

There was no mistake made at all!

In my 16 plus years of living in Chicago, I had not seen this many white folks, at this particular south side, inner-city, small, community hospital in my entire life! I thought I was back in college in Minnesota, where there were only one or two Black people in a classroom setting. I graduated with 500 scholars and many students had lofty dreams and goals, but only a few completed their mission.

And just like during my college days, I knew there were more than two people, claiming that they wanted the Vaccine shot, but for various reasons, such as transportation, childcare, money for bus fare, or gas, or employment during the time the shots were given, prevented many people from having a seat at the table. 

And then, there are those of us, who are “waiting” for the right time, and the right place, and the right crowd to get on board with to take the shot. In my college class, there were nine Black freshmen, out of 1,500 students. I knew that there were 99 or even 900 people with the capacity to run circles around me academically, but when it was all said and done, there were simply nine Black brothers and sisters in my college freshmen class. And when we graduated, there were three of us to complete the program. Today, there would be two Black women, completing the shots; One less than my college class. Things haven’t changed much since 1984, I see.

Black folks were employed at the facility as security, clerks, nurses, cafeteria workers, physicians, housekeeping, and COVID personnel, but there were less than three Black folks in line for the shot.

When we stood in the receiving line, there were 12 to 14 white people to the two of “us” who arrived early, for the COVID-19 Vaccine shot. There were a Latino father and his adult daughter in line, in front of us. There were some people of color, who were hospital employees, and an elder Black woman sat in the front of the line, and my grandson and I took our places along the crowd.

We were instructed to have our license or state ID out and insurance card. We were asked to fill out the four-page form and return their pen. We were told to have a seat and be patient. Be very patient, as the process was running very slowly. That was it for the 100 or so people there for the test that day.

My appointment was for 2 pm, but that was the arrival time cutoff deadline. Since walking isn’t easy for me anymore, I left for the hospital at 12:30 pm. We were walking out into the parking lot at 4:45 pm. I had packed my bag with treats like pretzels, drink boxes, and cookies. I had brought papers to grade and things to read, but that seemed boring. JA read a simple book and refused to do his math problems. The hospital staff member went to get him some crayons and a coloring book, which he enjoyed more than mixed fractions. He colored quietly and seemed content while listening to the visitors in the hallway. A guy named Jim, ran his mouth a mile per minute about everything and knew everybody, or so it seemed. A lady named Ruby made small talk with the women waiting, while family members huddled together, deciding who would go first. There seemed to be a constant hum in the air, as names were called every 20 minutes. Jim was laughing loudly and kept telling tall tales to all who would listen.

“MISS West-Williams,” said the clerk as I scramble to get-up and start walking towards the entrance of the vaccine clinic. An African gentleman asks if I am right or left-handed? He decided to use my left arm for the shot. I close my eyes because I dislike needles. The shot went fine, and I wait 15 minutes for any reactions or setbacks. Nothing happens, and we leave the hospital, with Jim still talking in the background. My upper left arm hurt for one day, and that was the only side effect. The soreness was gone by a day or two. I return on February 15th for my second shot.

Our local news reports that 48% of white city dwellers are receiving the Vaccine, while people of color lag behind at less than 11% of the population receiving the Vaccine. A solution would be to use the places where we gather to distribute the shot. Barber and beauty shops, the house of worship or popular churches, the grocery stores, the nail shop, the braid shop, the hair store, the gym, the liquor store, Popeyes and Church’s chicken…Yes, I wrote that because in my neighborhood, that is where we are on most days, during the Pandemic. Pookie and them always have a party on Saturday, but we don’t want folks going to jail for breaking curfew, but many young people are in attendance. Or either we go to these places and do as the late Father George Clements said, which was, “Each one, take one.”

Either we assume the leadership and model what needs to be done or we will fail as a culture of people.