Brown Memorial Baptist Church
Brown Memorial Baptist Church

More than 100 religious leaders in Brooklyn are calling on the city’s leaders to urgently recognize the potential they have to help fight the pandemic — especially in communities of color.

The coalition of Brooklyn clergy announced Tuesday it was calling on New York’s top officials to finally recognize that houses of worship were “essential” organizations, and to let them help with vaccinations.

The call comes just days after Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the new ‘Roll Up Your Sleeve’ campaign, which encourages houses of worship to sign up as vaccination sites. Click here to sign up.

The Houses of Worship Vaccination Organizing Campaign said faith centers had long served as flu shot distribution sites, as well as COVID-19 testing sites.

Photo: Scott Heins for the Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo.

The Brooklyn leaders are offering their houses of worship for use as long-term vaccination sites, hoping it might give more minority communities easy access to COVID-19 vaccines, and reduce fear around getting the shots.

The letter comes after the City released alarming data last month showing a stark inequality in the city’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout, which had left communities hardest-hit by the pandemic — like Bed-Stuy and East New York –with the least vaccinated residents.

Founder of The Black Institute Bertha Lewis is one of the community leaders involved with getting letters demanding change to electeds. The Black Institute is a think tank that advocates for the Black community.

“Throughout this pandemic, it has been our faith leaders who have ensured that communities of color have had access to PPE and food distribution,” she said.

“They have been in constant contact with community members, working to help those who have been impacted the most.”

The churches say they should be able to help with vaccinations. Photo: Pexels

She said the coalition was asking officials to allow faith leaders to collaborate on vaccination efforts “so that communities of color are not left behind again.”

“We can get more at-risk people vaccinated, but we need the government to act and to recognize the potential we have here,” Lewis said.

On Monday, Cuomo announced those aged 50 or older are now eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine and pharmacies can vaccinate those with underlying conditions

Cuomo also said he wanted to address the lower level of vaccination among minority communities. “We still have not reached fairness and equity in the number of vaccines,” he said, adding: “That discrepancy has to be remedied.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo. Photo: Diana Richardson from Wikimedia.
Governor Andrew Cuomo. Photo: Diana Richardson from Wikimedia.

Black New Yorkers represent 17.3% of New York’s population over the age of 15, while Hispanic or Latinos represent 18%. But only 9.9% of people with at least one dose identified as Black, while 11.9% identified as Hispanic or Latino.

New York has one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates per-capita in the nation and hospitalizations have remained flat at around 4,500 patients over the past seven days, NBC New York reported.

Pastor Gil Montrose of the 67th Precinct Clergy Council, Inc “GodSquad” said Brooklyn was currently a “community in pain.”

“The trauma and order of operations are simply overwhelming and we have effectively managed during the pandemic,” he said.

“We ask for intervention from the government to access the requisite resources that will make houses of worship not just essential but key in the long-term vaccination campaign and help build safe and healthy communities.”

Vaccination site at Teachers Preparatory High School in Brownsville. Photo: Supplied.

The letter to elected officials also highlighted the inadequacies of the government’s handling of the pandemic, the coalition said.

This includes the lack of vaccine access in communities of color and the disproportionate number of deaths in minority and low-income communities.

Early on in the pandemic, officials revealed that the virus was proving twice as deadly for Black and Latino people than it was for white people in New York City.

The letter was sent to leaders including Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gilibrand, NY Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson and other members of the council and borough presidents.

Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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