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Vaccine Distribution through Black Church Networks

A Conversation with Dr. Kia Moore

In the following recorded interview (transcription below), Ipsita Dey (Anthropology Ph.D. Candidate, Princeton University) is in conversation with Dr. Kia Moore, Founding Pastor of The Church At the Well in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. Moore is the first woman African American millennial church planter in her region. As a licensed and ordained elder with a decade of experience in ministry leadership, in her role as consultant Dr. Moore has helped to shape strategy for some of the largest churches in the South over the last 12 years.

Recently, Dr. Moore served the Biden-Harris administration on both the National Faith Leaders and COVID-19 Community Corps teams. She was selected as one of the top experts for creating strategies to educate marginalized communities about COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccine.

In this interview, Dr. Moore and Ipsita discuss Dr. Moore’s logistics and social media proposal to provide and promote Black Church mobile vaccine sites in the greater Memphis area. This proposal was adopted by both the City of Memphis and the Shelby County Health Department, and garnered one million dollars in funding from the Memphis City Council.

Dr. Moore provides insight and expertise on the following topics:

  1. Accessibility issues at COVID-19 vaccine distribution sites
  2. The digital divide among vaccine seekers: those who have WiFi and access to educational resources, and those who don’t
  3. Educating Black Church congregants about the COVID-19 vaccine to reduce vaccine hesitancy
  4. The political and logistical struggles involved in organizing mass vaccination sites
  5. The history of the Black Church in Memphis, and communication networks among Black congregants
  6. Taking initiative in your home community to make a difference in the health and wellbeing of your neighbors.

Interview Transcript

Ipsita Dey: Thank you so much for being with us here today, Dr. Moore. How are you doing?

Dr. Kia Moore: I’m good, how are you?

Ipsita Dey: I’m doing fine, thanks so very much. So, for all of our friends who are watching this video I would just like to make a very brief introduction about Dr. Moore and the wonderful work that she’s doing in Memphis, and nationally as well.

Dr. Kia Moore is a proud alumna of both Clark Atlanta University and the University of Chicago where she graduated at the top of her classes. Today, as a licensed and ordained elder with a decade of experience in ministry leadership, Kia has helped to shape strategy for some of the largest churches in the South as a consultant for the last 12 years. She has also served as both the youngest clergy person to pray on the Tennessee House Floor and to lead National Day of Prayer in Memphis alongside its Mayor. Her first virtual conference was held in 2015 and reached over 4 million social media timelines in 48 hours.

Dr. Kia is the founding pastor of The Church At The Well in Memphis. This endeavor makes her the first female African American millennial church planter in her region by all accounts. The church has grown to nearly 400 members in a little over 3 year’s time & has a large outreach footprint due to donating over $100,000 to individuals and organizations in need in the first three years of existence. Through her marketing expertise, her church has also received counties media stories as well as has gone viral for its strategic billboards. Her viral billboards also attracted the attention of the billboard company which now features her on its website & hired camera crews to make a mini documentary about her church.

She completed her doctoral work recently on the intersections of the Black Church, fundraising & social media. Through this endeavor she successfully raised a 6 figure sum for a mega church by utilizing its online audience. The funds will be used to plant the 6th church that she has helped to launch in the last decade & the first church plant she has helped to plant in Ghana. She is currently collaborating on building a completely virtual church, as well.

Recently, Dr. Kia was honored to serve her country with her gifts. She served the Biden Harris Campaign’s African American Faith team and led local, state and national calls with clergy & denominational leaders. She was also responsible for social media strategy to amplify the calls. That role also allowed her to field national radio interviews with RadioOne stations & craft communications strategy for outlets that reach black women.

Today, she serves the Biden Harris administration on both the National Faith Leaders & COVID-19 Community Corps team calls. Recently, she was selected as one of the top experts for creating strategy to educate communities about COVID-19 & the vaccine. With this acknowledgment, she offered advice to the White House alongside Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the White House Director of COVID Response during a public White House event and was featured in President Biden’s weekly recap email.

In addition, Dr. Kia developed a logistics and social media proposal that was adopted by both the City of Memphis & the Shelby County Health Department to provide & promote Black church mobile vaccine sites in Memphis. This work garnered one million dollars in funding from the Memphis City Council. Most recently, Dr. Kia was contracted by CVS Pharmacy to help execute social media strategy for a nationwide health disparity program impacting black neighborhoods.

With that long introduction aside we’re so excited to have you here, Dr Moore. I mean it goes without saying just given all your many accomplishments you’ve had in the last year and the years before. And we really are so grateful for your time and for sharing your expertise with us.

Today we’ll be talking specifically about Dr. Moore’s work with the black church community in Memphis, Tennessee and her work with distributing vaccine information, vaccine inoculations themselves, and the role of the black church and how the black church has really been a galvanizing movement to get vaccines out there and information out there. So we’re really excited to talk to you about that Dr Moore.

Dr. Kia Moore: I’m excited to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

Ipsita Dey: Of course, and I’m sorry to take more time away from our conversation, but really quickly I’ll just introduce myself for those that are wondering. My name is Ipsita, I’m a graduate student at Princeton University studying Anthropology and I’m here today because I’m a research curator and collaborator on the Visualizing the Virus project. I’m currently creating a project on the impact of the black church networks in the South (and also outside of it [the South]).

Well, let’s go ahead and get started. Can you tell us a little more about your background, how you came to this work, just a little bit more about yourself?

Dr. Kia Moore: Yeah so you know I’m a Southern girl, grew up in the south, and got called to ministry obviously against my own will, because who would want to be a woman pastor in the South, where you know that’s frowned upon in some circles. Got over my fears, accepted my calling [to be in ministry]. Professionally I was always involved in marketing and social media, I started to work for churches to do that.

Recently, just because of you know, I guess, I would say God’s will I ended up kind of in the forefront locally in this public health conversation and it’s something I never really saw myself doing. In college, I was in a biomedical research program because I was a psych major.

And there was a small arm for psych, and so I mean I did like lab work with rats and stuff but I was literally just doing it because it was a scholarship. I had no interest you know in science in that way. And so now to be here, you know explaining the virus to people and how vaccines work to people is something that is an amazing work but it’s something that I just didn’t expect myself to be doing ever.

Ipsita Dey: Right, but now look at you, you found yourself in this role where you’re really inspiring so many so.

Let’s talk more about that specifically: Can you tell us more about the black community in Memphis? The black church community in Memphis? And how the vaccine rollout began just broadly in that community in the beginning.

Dr. Kia Moore: So you know the black church in Memphis is kind of the cornerstone. So I do consulting, not just for churches, but also for politicians. So like even today [for example] I was talking to a client and I was like “Okay, we need your black church plan” – like, you know, what churches are you going to, who are you going to talk to, because…[the black church is a really, really, really big deal].

Although there’s lots of conversations about how the church is losing its relevance – I think Time [magazine] (correction: Pew Research) might have put out an article saying the largest religious group now is “None” – and talking about how there’s this exodus from the Church. I mean, David Kinnaman, who is the President of Barna Group, which is a Christian publisher, has talked for years about how millennials were the mosaic group that would make an exodus like Moses.

And so there’s all this talk about who’s leaving, and I think people miss the fact that the people who are still there [in the church] are still very important in terms of moving messaging, galvanizing communities, and so [on]. Here in Memphis, now the black Church is a really, really, really big deal. The black church kind of wrapped up into the vaccine conversation when they did the [vaccine] rollout in Memphis.

And bless their hearts everybody was busy, it was crazy, and so I don’t think that the oversight [in distributing vaccines to marginalized communities] was intentional, but there was this glaring oversight.

They had a few locations where you can get vaccinated, but the lines were long.  (I mean think January, February [2021] when everybody was scrambling to get the vaccine.) So you’d be in your car for three to four hours, but they [vaccination centers] were only in certain neighborhoods.

And our transit system is terrible in Memphis, right, so you can’t really get everywhere on the bus. We don’t have you know, a train or any sort or subway. And so what happened was that people who had cars, or who could wait in cars for hours, or who had reliable cars that can sit that long, or the gas to burn were able to get vaccinated. The people who didn’t have reliable cars, or didn’t have cars at all, or who couldn’t sit in the car because maybe their bladders [were weak], or it was uncomfortable because they were disabled or old, were left out of that conversation. And most of those people ended up being minorities.

The way that you signed up to get in those long lines was online, right. When I saw the idea of [online sign up] I was like “Oh, this is a great idea! You can just text!” But I thought about it, and then it hit me – the digital divide. There are pockets of Memphis they don’t even get broadband in 2021.

So there was this huge conversation about the pipeline that they got cancelled. You might have saw that big national conversation about stopping the Byhalia pipeline in Memphis a couple of months ago – part of the conversation was the company that was bringing the pipeline said “Oh, we were having Zoom meetings!” and in the [council] meetings they [public citizens] were like, “We can’t get on Zoom.” And so in those conversations, it became very clear to me that there are people who don’t have access, right, to the Internet, either because they can’t afford it, or because it’s just not there.

And so they [people without access to internet] were missing the opportunity to register, so then they started a phone line. But the phone lines were back logged because there were so many people who only could register on the phone.

And so once I saw all of this kind of snowballing I just reached out to the person that was managing it. As luck would have it, or God’s grace, the person who was managing it was the mother of one of my childhood friends. Now I hadn’t talked to Dr Judy Martin since I was like five, but I was like maybe if I email her and kind of include the fact that I went to school with Julia [Dr. Martin’s daughter] maybe she’ll say yes.

So we set up a call, and she was so overwhelmed. She’s like “I’ve been wanting to do this, I haven’t had the manpower at the time. Like this is an idea that I have but I haven’t been able to roll it out, so if you come up with a proposal I will push it through.” So she pushed it through and we realized that if we can have people come to their home churches, they wouldn’t have to wait in those long lines. They could ride the church buses, so if they didn’t have transportation, it was fine. And even people who weren’t necessarily members of the church would still come because it was in their neighborhood. And they wouldn’t have to call and register – the church Secretary was calling them saying, “Hey Brother Joe, you know, would you like to get the vaccine? Okay your appointment is at 12 o’clock.” And so we really took all of the guesswork out of it for minority people in particularly the elderly black population, which was most vulnerable, but the least likely to have access to the vaccine.

And so that’s really how it happened – it was just kind of identifying the problem and recognizing that although there is a lot of medical discrimination, we are aware of that, (I am acknowledging that medical discrimination is part of the issue), I think the biggest issue was we were in a pandemic we never seen before, and they were understaffed. And it was just kind of like we want to do this [provide vaccines to underserved populations], but we don’t have the people to do it, and so I had to volunteer and not be paid to do this work. But it was the right thing to do.

Ipsita Dey: Right and what’s so exciting is – offline we’ve had conversations about the enormous success that this rollout has had in black communities. You mentioned that your own childhood church community is 100% fully vaccinated.

As someone who’s outside of Tennessee, and also outside of the black church Community, I think a lot of the narrative about you know, black hesitancy towards the vaccine has been about vaccine misinformation. But you’re bringing a different perspective on it and you’re saying there is misinformation, but that misinformation might come from lack of access to the internet, [lack of access] to knowledge, [lack of access] to the vaccine itself, [lack of access] to transportation. So really it’s these infrastructural issues around lack of access that are the problem, not specifically the kind of [vaccine] misinformation which is more of a symptom than a cause.

Dr. Kia Moore: Yes, and that’s really what I was – I don’t want to say arguing – but explaining. Shortly after they wrote my program out Dr. Judy resigned. And then there was, like all of this, kind of like, drama going on with the health department.

So Memphis has two mayors – most people don’t know that. We’ve got a city mayor and a county mayor. And so the health department was run through the county. When Dr. Judy resigned, the city mayor was like “No, we need to run it.” It was too much going on, all these articles, and I’m like “All the people who signed up are going to say they don’t want to go, because this drama!” So I had to go re-present my proposal to the entire city council.

They vote to give me $1 million, and what I explained to them in that meeting was this isn’t just about equitable distribution of the vaccine this is about equitable distribution of information about the vaccine. Because we can make the vaccine available, but if you haven’t explained that it’s safe, right, that it’s not going to cause infertility, that you need to take it if you’ve survived cancer, that it doesn’t have live fetal cells, and like all the things that people were spreading around. We needed to educate them about that as well, and so once they understood that there were two issues happening, right, they were really on board to move it forward.

But you’re right what we found in Memphis – and again this is just Memphis – is that the issue was not vaccine hesitancy. It was a lack of access. As soon as they [vaccine appointment slots] were available – we could only serve, I can’t even remember the numbers, but like 30 people every 15 minutes – those slots were filling up. It was like clockwork, right, you in [and] out, wait for 15 minutes and leave, like we had a well oiled system. But we would only have you know those 30 slots every 15 minutes for maybe four hours, the second day for eight hours, but the slots would be gone, Ipsita, in two hours once we put it up.

So what we found immediately was people were not hesitant to get the vaccine. They were hesitant about the process. Like, I don’t have a car that can wait, you know [my car sitting idle] for hours it’s going to shut off or it’s going to run hot. I can’t take my grandfather to get vaccinated because he wears diapers and he doesn’t want to sit in the car, you know, in his own waste while he’s waiting to get a vaccine.

But we also want to be able to talk to people. Rolling down your sleeve in the car is a very

mechanical process, right, but being inside of your church seeing your pastor as you walk in [makes it more comfortable]. We actually fed the volunteers (you know our church paid for that, because the city they didn’t pay for that). But we provided food for all, because we would have to have medical reserve volunteers to give away the vaccines. But we would feed the people.

We have medical people on staff. We were able to space people out. It was just more comfortable for people. And so what we recognized was that they weren’t [hesitant] – I mean there are a lot of people who are [still] hesitant and still are today and rightfully so and we can talk about the whole Tuskegee conversation. But mostly what we found was people weren’t hesitant, they just couldn’t get to [the vaccine].

Ipsita Dey: There’s so many interesting points there, but one thing I want to come back to: you mentioned that right as the project started going there was a resignation of Dr. Judy Martin and this created a few obstacles to the process of getting the project going. I mean perhaps it’s obvious to others, but I think it bears mentioning, that the people who suffered the consequences from political drama are those that need access the most.

Dr. Kia Moore: And, and then, when it all came out in the wash [after Dr. Judy resigned], they had to come back and clear her name and say she wasn’t at fault for anything, she didn’t do anything wrong. But in the melee the program was up in the air, right. And it wasn’t Dr. Judy’s fault at all, like, without her – and this is something I’ve always wanted to say on the news and I’m glad I could say it here – without her nobody would have been vaccinated in the black church because she was the one that opened that door. She already had the idea. Sure, the city says we were having some plans working [to vaccinate people in the black church], but that only happened after the city took it from the county. Dr Judy Martin, she’s the reason. You know what I mean, like, I don’t have the credentials to roll out a vaccine clinic by myself.

But in the process of her resigning and then them finding out how they were going to replace [her] and the city taking it [vaccine distribution program] from the county –  there were a couple of weeks in between. We had to rebuild up momentum and tell people it was okay. But once people started to see, “Hey, they’ve got 10 churches lined up this week” – and then we moved into the brown community which was really amazing – we built that momentum up [again]. But the shuffle in the middle, was one of those things where it was like: I know this has to happen, I know it’s going to happen, but the people you know – how are they feeling? Luckily, we didn’t have to cancel any appointments: the city and the county pulled together in the melee.

We had two [vaccine distribution events] that were already fully scheduled and they had firefighters come – and I can’t remember all of their names – but everybody pulled together to make sure that everything went off without a hitch. But it was kind of nerve wracking when it first happened because I was so worried that the program might say, “We don’t have the time for it, we don’t have the money.” And so I thank God for Mayor Strickland and the City Council because they were like, “Hey we’ll put a million [dollars] aside to do this,” and so they made the right decision, thank God, but it could have gone a whole other way.

Ipsita Dey: You know just hearing about the scale of what you had to organize and do – I’m really curious about what the process looks like for you. Which churches were you reaching out to how did you get in touch with them? How are the connections between these churches made? Were they [the connections] there to begin with, or was that really started with this process? Like what was the process of organizing all of this? And what is the current existing infrastructure across church communities?

Dr. Kia Moore: So originally I had my own list when I was working with Dr Judy. When the city took over, they kind of merged our list [with other locations], and then they took over a lot of the logistics, because they already had their people in place.

But originally you know we had to get the medical reserve volunteers to sign up, we needed volunteers to manage people’s check ins, we had volunteers to watch the people as they do the cool down and see if they have any reactions, we had to have runners to take the applications back to the FEMA volunteers, because we had FEMA volunteers on site. I mean there were so many moving parts.

Sanitizer – so we had a group of people that just sanitized. Like they would get the pens and the clipboards after every round and sanitize them because we were also mindful that we were in a pandemic. And so, then we have runners – when it was raining we have runners outside to check people in in their cars, so that they can just walk right in for their thing, but it was this large scale process. But again technology was helpful because even though those people didn’t have to manually signing online, the church secretaries were able to update and put them in Sign Up Genius. So we still use technology we just lessened the digital divide, by putting tech savvy people in those positions to manage it. But it was a huge undertaking.

But I’m so glad that, when the city came they were like, “No we’re going to take this part off of your hands,” because they kind of expanded it. They made the slots bigger, they made the windows of vaccines larger, and there is no way that at that point, I could have done it by myself, especially without Dr. Judy and the team of people that we were working with from the health department. I’m trying to remember the lady’s name, I can see her face, she was an angel who helped run the operation. Man, I can see her face. But she came in and it was just like Wonder Woman, and so this was not a one woman show and then after the city became involved, it became you know something totally – not totally different but they scaled it up. [Sherry Cohen, her name is Sherry Cohen]. But they had the resources to do that. When you put a million dollars behind a project you can do so much more. They had radio ads and commercials and billboards, which are all things that were in my original proposal, but the city, you know merged [their] ideas with our own ideas.

Ipsita Dey: And we touched on this a little earlier but, again, to come back to it: I’m so fascinated by what you mentioned earlier about how others might have argued in the past that there’s this mass exodus of millennials and youth from the black church. So I’m really curious to hear from you, like, who were the people who are coming to be vaccinated at the church sites? And then the people who weren’t coming – so the people who were being missed by the church sites – how were you or another team reaching out to those community members in the black community?

Dr. Kia Moore: So we had a bunch of people at all the sites, but they were mostly older black people, because at that point when we first started millennials couldn’t get vaccinated. So millennials weren’t even on a list. But we would have millennial volunteers, because there’s kind of this unofficial rule that if you’re in the building when we get done [with all the vaccine appointments] and we’ve got vials open, we have to put them in arms and so millennials would staff the elderly sites, because they knew, “Hey, I can get a surplus vaccine at the end of the day if they open up too many.”

And so I was able to vaccinate a lot of millennials who were in positions where they felt like they needed it sooner like day care workers that weren’t on the [vaccine eligible] list, yet, but they’re around all these kids.

And so they [non-eligible people during the early vaccine rollout stages] would come and volunteer and then they would more than likely get vaccinated at the end [of the day], but, to my surprise, it was a lot of older black people who officially registered.

Like, we vaccinated a 92 year old man at our second site and it brought tears to my eyes, because he was a vet, he had on his regalia when he came in, like he wanted you to know his story. And this is someone who was alive during the Tuskegee Airmen conversation, right, he’s affiliated with the military and all of those things.

We had a mix of people. We also had some white people to show up, even though it was at the black church because again some white people didn’t have the Internet or didn’t want to wait in those lines. And I remember this lady she was Scottish (so obviously not black), she was explaining that she had tried to get back to the other site but she kept getting turned away. And she had gone to three sites. And she wanted to meet me, she’s like “I just wanted to thank you, this is the cleanest site we’ve been to.” “This is the nicest site,” she’s like, “It only took us, you know 30 minutes.” Because we would give you your slot: you come in 15 minutes before [the inoculation], you stay 15 minutes after, 32 minutes tops right. And so, she was like, “This is the fastest process.”

But yeah we have mostly older black people, which was our mission, because those are the ones who weren’t driving, who don’t have the Internet. But we had a lot of millennials who were staff to sites.

Now after we began to go into the summer, it was everybody that could be vaccinated I believe. So around May and June we started to see you know a lot more younger people, but the other thing we saw was families. There were families who would show up together, so you see grandma and grandpa. You know sons and daughters and then you know they have the kids with them, (who of course couldn’t get vaccinated) but we saw families show up. And then we also saw people who would just show up and say, “Hey, if someone doesn’t show up you know, can I get their shot,” and so we’d have a group of people at every site – 30 or 40 people – who came back at the end because we had a waitlist for those people, and we would give them vaccines, because if people miss their appointments of course we’d have those surplus vaccines. We didn’t want to waste those [surplus vaccines]. There was so much vaccine waste because people were signing up for multiple sites, because they just didn’t know who they were going to get to first.

And so we would know this person didn’t show up, and so the way we figured out how to fix it was to give away surplus vaccines and I remember at one site we had one shot left, [and] there was nobody there that needed it. And they were like, “We’re not going to throw it away.” Get on Facebook, call some people, and I ended up calling somebody that was like 20 minutes away and we waited to give them that shot because we weren’t going to throw it away.

But it was a mixed group of people, but mostly older people, who showed up in the beginning, because you know we were going through those phases.

Ipsita Dey: One thing that’s really in the forefront of my mind is that, you know, the black church has been so instrumental for social movements, you know, in the history of black America. So there are specific networks – whether they be transportation networks, communication networks, social networks – but there’s something specifically special about the networks created by the black church over history over time and through faith that makes something of this grand scale possible. So, can you speak a little more about the history of that system and that network in Memphis and how you were able to tap into that?

Dr. Kia Moore: It’s messaging and for me that type of messaging goes back to slavery. You remember the songs “Follow the Drinking Gourd” or “Wade in the Water” – that type of messaging has always been embedded in the church, right. They were telling people, you know, how to escape slavery or how to, you know, hide from the dogs.

As we, you know, gain our freedom – the church became a bit more institutionalized [but] we were still a part of that messaging like, how do you get messages out in a way that reach only us [black community]. And so the black church has been that kind of house for black messaging.

In this instance, you know the pastors would just get up – and so this doesn’t necessarily always happen in other churches – [and in] black churches, they have [would make] observations.

And so, the pastor gets up maybe with a newspaper and tells you what they’re saying in the news and then he’ll tell you who he talked to during the week. Nothing sermonic, nothing worshipful, it’s just a family fireside chat. And so what they did was, during their observations, they would say, “Hey, you know, on Sunday we’re doing this [event for vaccines]. This isn’t an announcement like what the secretary is going to tell you [but] I’m going to tell you this because it has weight.” And people [church congregants] will sign up.

And so they [pastors] would carry those messages, but even now politicians will come, you know, to the black church. And you don’t get up and leave after you speak, right, you stay to the end to let people know you’re invested in that message. So the black church is the cornerstone, right, people know that it’s the way to get the messaging out.

You don’t need social media because you’ve got a captive audience of people and then there’s this trust. Because if the pastor stamps you or stamps this message – [from the perspective of a church congregant] this is the person that cares for my soul, the person that baptized me, this is the person that funeralized my parents person, this is the person that paid my light bill when I couldn’t pay it and so [when that person] tell[s] me this vaccine is safe, I’m going to trust you.

Because I’m trusting you literally with my concept of eternity and you don’t have that type of buy-in anywhere else, right.

And so you asked how do we reach people who are outside of it [the black church]? In my original proposal to Dr. Judy I said that in my phase two I wanted to move into the Memphis Grizzlies and to get them involved. To get people who were coming to games, but maybe not going to the church, [to get the vaccine]. And so when the city took over, they had a similar idea, so they put out flyers about how you’d be able to go back to the club and party or if you had your vaccine [you could go to] the Southern Heritage Classic, which is the biggest football game in Memphis (you might have seen a bunch of attention now).

Because you got Deion Sanders at JSU (Jackson State University) and you’ve got at Eddie George at TSU. Before that it was still big but now you got these celebrity coaches coaching these historically black colleges, and so this year was the first time they came back, and so they marketed saying like, “This is our best shot to get back to the Classic. Like if you want to go to the Classic with 60,00 people, the bands, and eat the cool food, and tailgate, you’ve got to get vaccinated.”

And so we had these kinds of wrap-a-round conversations but the epicenter was still the church because, even if you’re not going to church your grandma still going, right. And you got to go to Big Mama’s house for Thanksgiving. And so it’s still kind of centered around the Black family unit which, although there’s lots of secularization happening, the black church is still important because the matriarch is still in church, she hasn’t stopped coming.

Ipsita Dey: Perhaps it’s time for us to start winding down now, but something you mentioned at the very beginning that I’m so interested in – and now speaking about matriarchs – can you speak more about your position as a woman and that too a younger woman? If many of your congregants are older, are elders in the church, how do you establish the kind of authority and trust with these figures as someone who’s younger, who they might have seen grown up? So I would just like to hear more about your positionality and how that might have helped or perhaps even hindered your approach to organizing this project.

Dr. Kia Moore: That was the most beautiful thing about it because I think older people tend to trust young people about technology, and so, since I was solving the technical issue, it was like “Okay well listen to this young girl.” But one of the first people to walk through the door at my second site was my own Sunday School teacher Deacon Bobby Myers. He came in, he wheeled his wife in – she’s still as beautiful as she was when I was little – and he was just like, “Kia, I’m so proud of you.”

And then my pastor who was there because we were doing it at his church – my childhood pastor [Rev. Leonard Dawson, Jr.], he baptized me, licensed me to preach, we still talk, you know, once a week, we have a great relationship, but he’s in his 80s now – he walked up to me and he said, “You know, all of my seniors signed up.” And I was like “what?,” ‘cause I mean you expect one person to say no – [but] he said, “100% of my 65 and over population (those were the only ones who can be vaccinated at the time) have signed up and I want to thank you because Kia they trusted you and now they’re safe.”

And so, I think, because of a lot of the things I’ve done in the community (you mentioned me being, like, the youngest person to lead the National Day of Prayer for the city) – my home church, the local church, [everyone] combined were used to seeing me. I’m a female pastor – there’s not many of us, right, you can name the five of us on your hand that people recognize. And so I’ve kind of been able to be the baby of the bunch [of female pastors] right, and so they knew me, they trusted me, and they wanted the vaccine, right.

But we had people who showed up who didn’t trust. We had to talk a man into getting his vaccine at Dr. Gina Stewart’s church, who is probably the most known female pastor in the city. (She’s older than I am, but she – if I do what I do with ease it’s because Gina Stewart blazed that trail, right, she went through. The people saying, “Don’t touch my pulpit, you’re a woman,” you know, saying horrible things about her. I’ve experienced some of them [the hateful comments]), but not as much as Gina.)

But we were at Dr. Gina’s church, and the boy signed up, he’s like, “Nah man, I ain’t doing it, I don’t want to fill out this paperwork. I don’t trust this.” And the most beautiful thing happened. Two older ladies in their 60s (one I think was a 65 year old and like a 72 year old) – they came and they hugged him. And they explained to them that they had already gotten their shot, you know, two months ago and they were fine and they explained to him why they [vaccine site staff] needed the paperwork [from each patient], you know, and that they would sit with him [while he filled out the paperwork and received the vaccine]. And he walked out [of the vaccine site] for a second and he came back and said, “You know what. I’m gonna get my shot.” And they [the two older ladies] walked him in there to get a shot.

And those are experiences that you can’t have in a drive through [vaccination site]. Because who’s going to kind of counsel you through that – “I’m here, but I’m afraid” – and so we were able to do that in the church and so women (to your point) were so important because you got: Dr. Judy (who was overworked but wanted to make it happen, but didn’t have the man power to do it); then you have people like Dr. Gina who opened up the church; then you have the women, you know, who were wiping down the [check-in] boards. And so this was very much a women-centered movement, now that you mention it.

I just never really, really thought about it. But even in the church, the most ironic thing about people being against [women preachers] were preachers who misinterpreted that scripture and that’s a whole ‘nother conversation…But when you deny women agency and power in the church it’s funny because 60% of the church is female, you know. I mean, so you are disenfranchising – to be quite honest – your revenue, because the matriarchs are still in church, the matriarchs are paying their tithings, the matriarchs are paying the bills. And you would tell the matriarch that her granddaughter can’t preach? And so the ironic thing is…

(You know that’s a story, I’m glad you brought it out, because now, I want to kind of amplify it more. It’s a lot easier to have this conversation with you now that I’ve kind of pulled myself out of it because I’ve taken a breather, now we’re about to start up some sort of booster campaign.)

But women really did shoulder this [vaccine distribution and vaccine information dispensation] but isn’t that like women? To kind of notice that something needs to be nurtured and then figure out a way to make it happen? Because I was finishing my doctorate while I was doing this. You’re talking about stressed? I want to pull my hair out – but I was, like, “I got to do both. I got to do it,” and so, so we made it happen.

Ipsita Dey: Well, I mean kudos to you – as someone who’s doing her doctorate right now I can’t imagine having to pull this off while doing all of that –

Dr. Kia Moore: I mean I’m like looking at data, and charts, and I’m on the phone like, “Hey can you volunteer on Saturday…” It was a lot, but you know by the grace of God, I made it but yeah, thank you for bringing that out like I didn’t really even think about it, but yeah I mean that was honestly a feat, because not only do people not trust the vaccines but they have this kind of mistrust of women in ministry. We were able to clear both of those obstacles and I didn’t even think about it.

Ipsita Dey: I mean it’s, as you mentioned, it’s by the grace of God. So I’m so happy that the blessings have come so bountifully for you and your church and the community.

Last question and we’ll end it here: can you tell us more about your plans moving forward? What kind of organization is happening to get boosters in these arms? What’s going on there?

Dr. Kia Moore: Yes, so my next move…

Actually so there was a huge tragedy in the city recently, we lost rapper Young Dolph. I don’t know if you heard about that, and so the city’s kind of paused [because of] the criminal investigation and just the trauma of it all (there were 20 murders in seven days after he died).

And so what I was going to present or asked to present kind of got put on hold, but his [Young Dolph’s] celebration of life was actually today. I didn’t go because I advocate for public health and I’m not going to be enclosed with thousands of people. I wanted to be there, but I just…For me, I didn’t feel like there was the right move to make, now that I’m encouraging people [to stay indoors in small group settings]. I mean I want people to celebrate him, but I wouldn’t go in a large group.

But now that’s kind of settling down, I want to be able to have that conversation about boosters because they’re available everywhere, and people don’t know. So I called my childhood pastor to say, “Hey you and first lady, you need to get your booster,” and he’s like, “Well where do I go?” [I said], “You can go to CVS!” [And he says], “Oh?” So people don’t know, where to get the boosters, they don’t know when to get them, they don’t know who can get them, and we’ve got to have that conversation, because what we’re seeing is…

You, know I shared a graphic from – because you know we kind of been following Israel because they are like 90 days ahead of us – and the line [measure of how many people are getting sick] for people under 40 who had a booster, it was like a non-existent. This is pre Omicron, now…again…

But prior to that it was like non existent, right, and if you were older than 40 it was like maybe the bar was this big compared to what it was with just two shots [using physical gestures to indicate that there were fewer people over 40 getting COVID after the booster]. We saw the science, you know what I mean that was saying, “Hey you should get the booster.” But even with Omicron, it’s so mild for the vaccinated.

What I’m guessing – and, again, I don’t have a degree in public health so don’t hold me to it – what I’m guessing is the Omicron variant is the prototype for the common cold version of COVID-19, because what we’re seeing is it’s so mild. It’s so mild. So we knew that it was going to mutate, to the point where it would invade vaccines, but also to the point where it would be so mild that there wouldn’t be a need for it [additional vaccines], and so I’m hoping that Omicron is that common cold version that everybody’s probably going to get but it’s not going to kill you, we know it’s not going to kill you. We just got to get people vaccinated so that they don’t get Delta, but yeah so that’s really my goal now is to kind of amplify these conversations about boosters because we got to remind all of those older people that we vaccinated in March and April – [they] should have already gotten their booster right.

And I always use the example of Jesse Jackson – he was in the hospital with COVID-19 in August [2021], I think, but he was vaccinated in January [2021], he was one of the first people to be vaccinated and he was publicized. People like, “Oh my God, he was fully vaccinated [and got COVID-19], I’m not getting it [the booster].” And I was like, “But they’re telling us that the booster needs to happen within six to nine months right (this is before they switched it to six). And so, he was in that window where his vaccine was waning and so I’ve used that example with my grandmother who’s now got her booster, with my uncle, with my pastor. Like, “Hey, remember Jesse Jackson? Right at six month mark he got COVID and he was hospitalized. He made it all the way through, going to protests, showing up to speak, but as soon as this vaccine hit that six month mark, he was in the hospital.” So I’ve been using that example to help people.

But that’s really where I am now – is how do I get as much momentum as I had before? I don’t know if the city wants to give us any more money, but we need to start having some more booster opportunities in black churches, because it would pain me to build the trust of thousands of people around the vaccine and then they be miseducated about the booster, get sick, potentially pass [die], and say “Well, we trusted them.”

Ipsita Dey: And I’m sure the challenges around providing information about the boosters are so…it’s almost a degree more difficult than providing information on vaccines back in January and March [2021], because now the boosters come in multiple forms (in pill form and in an inoculation form). [And there are other questions…] if I got Moderna can I get the Pfizer booster? There are so many questions about boosters. So much misinformation. So I’m sure, the challenge is ahead, but I also am sure that you’re cut out for it.

Dr. Kia Moore: And all the [confusion about] variants I mean, please, every week there’s another one. People don’t understand that, until we get everybody vaccinated, they’re [new variants] going to keep mutating. So it’s almost like you’ve got to have epidemiology class and a biology class with people every step of the way and so it’s like, how do you break down this very high level conversation about the spread of a virus to people who don’t use that language. Because it was hard for [even] me to process and my brain was already being stretched to capacity. And so that’s really the barrier: is that you got to explain it to people in a way that doesn’t scare them, because when you start talking about “always going to keep mutating” well, then [they start saying], “Why do I need to get the vaccine?” Well, you need to get the vaccine, so that if it does mutate you don’t get as sick. “Well then, why am I getting it [the vaccine] if I get sick?” Well, we never said it was gonna you know stop you from getting sick. So this all feels like the goalpost is moving, but it’s really not. COVID is just evolving and so that is the challenge  – to maintain the trust, as this virus does what we knew it was going to do (we knew it was going to mutate). But people, you know…we’ve just never been in a pandemic. Well, our grandparents have (some of them), but we haven’t.

Ipsita Dey: Well, wow this conversation has been so wonderful. Thank you so much for your time. I don’t think I could do a summary justice in the moment, but I’m going to go ahead and try for the few viewers we have left at the end here. For you guys that are hanging on with us still, thank you, I’m sure you’ve learned as much as I have.

Dr Moore spoke about the digital divide, how there is specifically marginalized…where you know populations, especially in in the black community, might not have had access to information about the vaccine because of lack of WiFi, because the lack of hearing [vaccine information] from trusted people within their social community. So we talked about the digital divide.

We talked about the power of the network of the black church, what makes it special and what makes it specific to black history in the Americas.

We talked about, specifically, the project that Dr. Moore had where she was working with several churches in the Memphis area to set up vaccine clinics to distribute vaccines among people who were mostly elderly, but also widely diverse and varied population. And you know really targeting people who didn’t have access to cars, didn’t have the ability to stand in lines for long amounts of time, who might not even have had the social support to overcome the fear of getting the vaccine in the first place.

And we talked about many other things, I think those three were the main things that I’ve taken away. And Dr Moore is there anything else you’d like to add?

Dr. Kia Moore: Oh I’m just grateful. And if anybody is watching and you know, you’re in your community, you see something…I don’t want to be like one of those after school specials…

But literally this just all started from an idea and ask. Like I just said, “Hey, can we do this?” In my mind the worst they can do is say no, and so, when it comes to stuff like this, like I’m not saying go and say you’re going to make a vaccine or something like that (because you don’t have the degrees), but I don’t have any experience of public health, but now you know God has been using me to do this. You might not have experience in social work or experiences in mental health, but you see something, and you want to kind of be that vessel or vehicle – I encourage anybody that’s watching to ask how can I help, how can I be of service. Because so many people got vaccinated, and we can hope to say that so many lives were saved, just from sending an email and harassing my friend from kindergarten’s mom, like “Hey, I know you don’t remember me but can we please do this?” And she said yes. I’m grateful.

And then the City Council and JB Smiley, kind of, he pushed it through and then got me to present it [the vaccination project for black churches]. And the Council said yes, and so there were so many people who said yes along the way, and then the mayor came and said, “Yes, they’ll [vaccination project] use a million.” And then, you know the fire came and said “Yes, you know we’re going to expand this and make this bigger.” So there were so many yeses but it started with me just saying, “Hey can we do this?”

And so I’m sure somebody’s watching, and they’re thinking about things that happened in the pandemic, as we visualized the virus. It may not be the vaccine, it can be something else, but whatever it is if you got an idea I say go for it because I wouldn’t be having this conversation…I mean all the way to the White House (digitally, of course, but I’m still gonna tell my kids that I presented at the White House) because of this idea…like it’s the coolest thing in the world to me.

Ipsita Dey: Right. And with that blessing from Pastor Moore, I mean what more do we need? We have the inspiration and the grace and all the good fortunes to move forward. So thank you so much for your time, and thank you all for listening.

And please, please take your time to go through the rest of this page, visit other pages on this platform. We’d love for you to make connections between stuff that Dr Moore is saying, and perhaps other contributors on our page. And then reach out to us, reach out to me, if you have an idea or if you’d like to feature some of your work on this page. We’d be more than happy to speak with you, and maybe try and figure something out to make sure you get your spotlight.

So thank you all for listening and thank you, Dr. Moore, for your time. We’ll see you all later.