An Inter-Faith Alliance to Stop COVID-19
Project PEACH and CEAL team staff prepare information for the Vaccination Extravaganza event in December 2021 at the Holsey Chapel CME Church in Columbus, GA. Photo Credit: Brittany Taylor.
In February, Tabia Henry Akintobi, Ph.D., M.P.H., received an urgent call from Reverend Jasper W. Williams, Jr., Senior Pastor of the Salem Bible Church in Atlanta. Akintobi is the principal investigator of the Georgia CEAL team and had been promoting or coordinating COVID-19 vaccination events, as the vaccine became more widely available in early 2021. “The Reverend was passionate about opening vaccine access to everyone,” Akintobi said. “He asked what he could do to bring together religious denominations across Georgia to share trusted COVID-19 information on the vaccine.”
An inter-faith alliance against COVID-19 in Georgia was born. Akintobi partnered with Williams to host a town hall event. In June, nine leaders from Christian denominations, representing hundreds of churches and congregations across Georgia, gathered to discuss religion as a social force for public health.
This led to the development of additional town halls to leverage inter-faith communities against COVID-19. The next event, “Faith Over Fear & Facts Over Misinformation,” was held at the end of August 2021. It was hosted by Iman Plemon T. El-Amin, Imam Emeritus of the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam, with Williams as a special guest, and included other denominational leaders, from the Fellowship Missionary Convention, Inc., and the South Atlantic Conference of Seventh-Day Adventist.
“One of the few things we can take away from this pandemic is that it allows us to see that we are all in this together,” El-Amin said at the event. “We must join together and cross borders and boundaries so that we can overcome this great test.” Williams stressed that all faith communities should talk about the importance of vaccination. Additional events have included faith leaders from Roman Catholic, Jewish, Islamic, and other communities.
A primary goal of these initial events was to understand what faith leaders were seeing and hearing about COVID-19 within their communities. The August event featured conversations with Georgia CEAL team members on how to increase vaccination and close to 100 faith and community leaders participated. “Our job was to listen and understand, then take action,” Akintobi said. “We shared CEAL resources and received feedback on how to include additional voices in these conversations. Faith leaders had questions on how they could reach the younger generation because many believe COVID-19 won’t affect them and what to say to people who thought the vaccine was developed too quicky and thus unsafe,” she added.
This effort has since been bolstered by John Blevins, M.Div.,Th.D., Director of Emory University’s’ Interfaith Health Program, who joined CEAL in Fall 2021. “We wanted to work with faith leaders to equip them to leverage their trusted voices as public spokespersons for COVID-19 vaccination,” Blevins said.
CEAL team members again met with faith leaders during a November event to gain valuable insight in the role of faith, community trust, and vaccination information. “We’re learning from our event surveys that faith leaders need support to help address COVID-related issues within their communities that are beyond just vaccination,” Blevins said. “For example, the pandemic has worsened food insecurity for many communities and with winter coming up, this is a critical issue. We’ve realized communities are tackling several problems at once and we discussed ways that CEAL could support both vaccination and other COVID-19-related issues.”
These conversations were and are still being used to develop upcoming vaccination and food or clothing distribution events, food banks, church newsletters, and community education forums across Georgia. They will be held in collaboration with faith leaders who will bring their leadership and their communities, CEAL team members who will bring COVID-19 information, and organizations like Community Organized Relief Effort and Project Peach, which will bring COVID-19 vaccines and testing, respectively. Together, Akintobi is confident these events will help Georgians to slow and ultimately stop the spread of COVID-19.