Honoring Black/African American History Month-The Wichita Black Alliance's Response to COVID

Ti’Juana Hardwell

Member of Wichita Black Alliance

In fall of 2020, several African American community groups, organizations, faith-based groups and elected officials in Wichita, Kansas joined together to create the #FactsNotFear campaign to address health disparities in the wake of COVID-19. The members of Wichita Black Alliance recognized that in order to combat the virus, we needed to get in front of our own to ensure we were informed and equipped with the necessary resources. Our communication initiative was created for us and by us, utilizing influencers from within our community to inform.

We hosted a series of town hall events that allowed African American/Black community members, and others, an opportunity to engage in meaningful discussions about COVID-19, testing, and vaccination. We were sure to include local Black health professionals, educators, influencers, those directly impacted by COVID-19, business owners, elected officials, and local media representatives in addressing concerns and fears from the public. By creating culturally-relevant messaging, we were able to appeal to a demographic that often distrusts mainstream and traditional information sources. We utilized word-of-mouth, radio, newspaper, TV, billboards, podcasts, website, social media and geofencing to connect to the African American public. Our messages resonated within the African American community and contributed to increased testing and confidence in receiving the COVID-19 vaccination. Although vaccination was not made available locally until after the conclusion of the #FactsNotFear campaign, we received feedback that health professionals and influencers we involved in our campaign helped them reach a decision to accept vaccination.

The #FactsNotFear communication campaign also connected members of the community to other supports such as mental health services, food, and rental assistance. Community members received mental health support training to help those suffering from depression, experiencing hardship or isolation in the wake of COVID-19. Several food drives were hosted by #FactsNotFear to address food insecurities made even more difficult by loss of income, change in needs, and displacement. Signage encouraging mask-wearing, hand sanitization, and social-distancing was provided to African American business owners. Health literacy featuring testing information was also made available to allow business owners the tools needed to convey the importance of following safety precautions to their clients. Business owners, churches, and community organizations attended #FactsNotFear distribution events to obtain more than 15,000 free masks throughout the duration of the campaign. They shared that providing masks allowed them to be more effective in encouraging mask-wearing among clients and members.

The #FactsNotFear project provided culturally-relevant messaging in Wichita, Kansas during a time in which there was a significant void. We were able to elevate Black health professionals, elected officials, influencers and other Black voices on a number of valuable platforms. This helped us to address concerns and fears, as these contributors were able to answer questions and combat misinformation. We chose to highlight the expertise of Black professionals, Black experiences with COVID-19, but also the unfortunate loss of Black life to the virus. This allowed viewers and listeners to understand the gravity of positive decision-making in the wake of COVID-19. Several of our panelists shared that after they concluded their town hall segments, community members followed up with them to discuss concerns in more depth. They were often asked if being tested for

COVID-19 was painful, their thoughts on the vaccine and what they felt community members could do to protect against the virus. This was an indication of how effective it was to utilize people from within a community to take part in disseminating information and messages. We are confident that access to our town hall discussions, #FactsNotFear health literacy materials, as well as paid and earned media moved the needle on Black Wichitans taking the virus seriously.

 

The financial support from CARES Act Funding allowed #FactsNotFear staff that was already engaged in the work of community outreach and communication, to have monies to expand those efforts. We were able to reach more people. The grant also allowed us to identify other ways to serve sub-groups that may have felt forgotten about in the fray like elders, people under

the age of 18, those with transportation issues, or those with low comprehension levels. The grant equipped us with meaningful resources to use many different channels to engage with the African American community. Because we were so immersed in the work, many members of the #FactsNotFear staff were motivated to be some of the first to take the COVID-19 vaccination when it became available. We used our standing in our communities to advocate for testing and vaccination even after the campaign concluded. We also shared about our experiences after taking the vaccination and we continued to be a resource when community members were in search of testing, vaccination, food and mental health support.

#FactsNotFear’s unique approach to addressing COVID-19 in Wichita’s African American community was highlighted by local and national news outlets. Our work not only helped Black Wichita to increase its testing rates, but it also inspired several local initiatives to utilize influencers from within the very community it strives to serve to disseminate information.

The campaign served as the foundational work for an expansion project called Facts Not Fear ICT that was recently funded by the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health and awarded to the City of Wichita. Facts Not Fear ICT currently serves Wichita’s African American/Black, Hispanic/Latino, Native American, and Asian communities. The expansion efforts include community facilitators that share health literacy and engage the public in community feedback groups as they craft rhetoric to address the impact of COVID-19.

We are confident that community members are ready to get past the pandemic. The ability to do so, however, relies on identifying and elevating community members who can positively influence a change in attitudes towards vaccination and testing. Sharing our stories and connecting people to culturally-relevant health literacy is integral in shifting the narrative. It is my hope that community members will continue to be a part of disseminating information and messages to one another–as it has the power to save lives.

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