Seven Memphis City Council members – (l-r, top to bottom) Michalyn Easter-Thomas, Edmund Ford Sr., Martavius Jones, Rhonda Logan, Patrice Robinson, JB Smiley Jr., Jamita Swearengen – are asking Memphis-area clergy to use their individual and collective clout to address inequities related to the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine in non-affluent communities. (Courtesy photos)

February 5, 2021

Dear Members of the Clergy:

Historically, the church has been a place of refuge, activism, comfort and, in times of trouble, a place where people of faith have sought answers.

We look to the church for support.

The Memphis City Council is concerned about the COVID-19 virus and its disproportionate impact on the African-American population, which is contracting and succumbing to the disease at an alarming rate.

In fact, by the numbers, the highest coronavirus case rates within our city are in the majority-Black communities of North and South Memphis.

Furthermore, Black residents represent 56 percent of all COVID-19 cases and 58 percent of virus-related deaths in Shelby County, while making up approximately 54 percent of the population.

Additionally, the council equally is concerned about the early failure to adequately test persons of color in low-to-moderate income communities for the virus.

For example, the Frayser area did not have a testing site in place until many weeks after sites were operational in more affluent neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, shortcomings persist as we see similar missed opportunities to vaccinate the most vulnerable within the City of Memphis.

At the time of this writing, weeks after the State of Tennessee received its first doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, Raleigh and Frayser still do not have a mass-volume site from which citizens of those communities can receive the vaccine.

Meanwhile, vaccine distribution sites at the Pipkin Building, the former city auto inspection station on Appling Road and the new site at Southwest Tennessee Community College’s Whitehaven center exist conveniently within proximity to other segments of the local population, including residents of neighboring counties.

This highlights the vaccination planning and allocation deficiencies relating to persons of color, as well as individuals and families lacking adequate transportation.

Statements from the Shelby County Health Department ring hollow as its officials attempt to assure us that locations are being sought to administer the vaccine within Raleigh and Frayser – given their repeated lack of advanced planning for these communities from the outset.

As these challenges persist, we now turn to the church as a valued ally and source of support.

Pastors Ricky and Sheila Floyd of the Pursuit of God Transformation Center recently also decried the lack of distribution sites in Frayser.

In doing so, however, they put forward a solution, offering their church as a potential hub in the fight to vaccinate Memphians within their reach.

Considering their bold action, our challenge to you all is straightforward:

We are asking Memphis-area clergy to demand that every elected official within the county use his or her power and influence to immediately address the inequities as it relates to the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine in non-affluent communities and to offer the use of your congregational spaces and/or parking areas, and your influence to ensure that your members, and their families, seek and receive vaccinations they deserve.

The health of our city is at risk in a time of unprecedented peril. The time to act is now.

To be clear, the church’s role within the Memphis community always has been important.

Your function as a beacon for good is now magnified as we endeavor to defeat COVID-19.

With reports confirming new strains of the virus in the United States and in Shelby County, it is imperative that religious leaders answer the call by joining the effort to protect the men, women, children and families of our city.

You can contribute in the days, weeks, and months ahead. So, consider offering your houses of worship as vaccination sites.

Allow the use of your parking lots for mobile medical units. Leverage your standing to positively combat opposition to the vaccine.

Together we will prevail. Your willingness to join in the fight to save lives will ensure that we reach that all-important end.

We are respectfully requesting that you ask every elected official in Memphis and Shelby County, in addition to the director of the Shelby County Health Department, to pledge to use his or her power and influence to ensure that vaccines are being equitably distributed and that vaccine sites are being equitably chosen. Your action today will remedy the fact that only 11 percent of the vaccinations reported has gone into the arms of Black citizens. We need you.

Please respond via email to email to [email protected] by Friday (Feb. 12) to let us know when you have completed the call to action in contacting every elected official in Shelby County and the director of the Health Department.

Councilwoman Michalyn Easter-Thomas

Councilman Edmund Ford Sr.

Councilman Martavius Jones

Councilwoman Rhonda Logan

Councilwoman Patrice Robinson

Councilman JB Smiley Jr.

Councilwoman Jamita Swearengen