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Black Faith-Leaders Join Hands In Task Force, Urging African Americans To Take COVID-19 Vaccine

Reverend Dr. R.B. Holmes is dressed in a black suit, white shirt, and red tie. Multiple mics are propped on the podium and he leans into them to speak to the press.
Robbie Gaffney
In this January 2019 photo, Rev. R.B. Holmes speaks to the press about an initiative to aid federal workers during a government shutdown. Now, Holmes is joining hands with other pastors in a task force aimed at encouraging African Americans to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Black faith-leaders across Florida are joining health experts in encouraging communities of color to get the COVID-19 vaccine. They've formed a task force to spread their message. Tallahassee pastor R.B. Holmes says he will lead by example and take the vaccine.

"All of us have buried, ministered, and comforted thousands of people who have died or dying from the virus; this is one battle that we cannot sit out," Holmes says.

To date, more than 22,000 Florida residents have died as a result of contracting COVID-19. Black people make up nearly 3,800 of those deaths. Holmes stresses that COVID-19 is real and that it hits home for him emotionally.

"I've lost many of my closest pastors. My mentors, who've died across this country last year, and I'm burying another one next Monday who died because of COVID-19," Holmes says.

But despite what he calls a life-or-death scenario, Holmes says some people of color might be reluctant to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

"Historically, African Americans have been misused by the medical profession. People still have a strong, sad memory of the Tuskegee experiment," Holmes says.

For those who want the vaccine, Holmes foresees obstacles those in the Black community may face.

"Many senior citizens in this community do not navigate the internet. So, what are we doing by people who cannot go online and set up an appointment? May not even have a car to drive to get there," Homes says.

Florida A & M University President Larry Robinson is also serving on the task force. He's hoping HBCUs can be a hub for COVID-19 vaccinations because he says they are trusted sources in the community.

Robbie Gaffney graduated from Florida State University with degrees in Digital Media Production and Creative Writing. Before working at WFSU, they recorded FSU’s basketball and baseball games for Seminole Productions as well as interned for the PBS Station in Largo, Florida. Robbie loves playing video games such as Shadow of the Colossus, Animal Crossing, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Their other hobbies include sleeping and watching anime.