Collage of vaccine recipients

Dr. Cornelius (Neil) Pitts, lead at the Zion Baptist Church Cares Ministry, and Founding Director of Miriam Medical Clinics, Inc.

Dr. Neil Pitts understands that most churches in the Black community are socially complex institutions of worship, fellowship, faith and lots of hope.

He is also head of the Zion Baptist Church Cares Ministry and Founding Director of Miriam Medical Clinics, Inc., which was administering the vaccine at Zion provided by Temple University Hospital.

It is also a safe space where understanding is in abundance, and a ready balm in a time of sickness which, Dr. Pitts believes, makes it the perfect platform on which to stand against a pandemic that has, until now, been running unchecked against the faithful.

“What you have here,” said Dr. Pitts, glancing around at the approximately 20 volunteers on hand to administer the COVID-19 vaccine, “is about 500 years of experience.”

From doctors to nurses to graduate students and even Baptist deacons escorting people to the church’s gymnasium. All of them, said Dr. Pitts, understood the importance of the moment and its place in history.

“This (event) is exceeding my expectations,” he said. “And that’s only due to the individuals we have on hand and being accepted by the community. We put this together in one week.”

Moving from the registration table to the upstairs gym to simply walking the floor and overseeing the operation like a nurse in the delivery room, sweat rolled from Dr. Pitts’ forehead, into his eyes and behind his mask. It was hard to distinguish the tears of joy from the flow of perspiration.

Keira Ragsdale, nurse volunteer

Keira Ragsdale is a Philadelphia native and graduate of Murrell Dobbins High School whose mascot is The Mustang.

Fast and powerful like the horse, she’s seen how swift COVID-19 has ridden across her community and takes a special pride in helping to tame the deadly virus.

“I’m excited to be a part of the response to reigning this virus in,” she said as she prepared to administer vaccines at Zion Baptist Church.

“I worked with the Black Doctor’s Coalition, and I realize there’s a lack of trust for the medical system,” another reason why her presence at events offering the shot is so important, she said.

Byron Udegbe, a freshman medical student from Maryland

“This (administering vaccinations) is huge,” said Byron Udegbe, a freshman medical student helping to register people at Zion Baptist Church as part of Temple University’s vaccine outreach to the community.

“I did volunteer work here (in North Philadelphia) last year and saw how it ravaged the community. Now I hope it’s (COVID-19) making that turn. I’ve seen the damage it’s done and it’s horrible. I’m glad we’re finally on the other side. The healing side.”

Civanni Moss, Vice President of the Student National Medical Association that advocates for minority representation in the medical profession

“I’m super excited to be a part of this event at Zion Baptist Church,” said Civanni Moss, Vice President of the Student National Medical Association and a volunteer helping to register and assist with giving the COVID-19 vaccine.

“To see so many brown faces taking part in making a difference is not only important to stop the virus, but show people we are intimately involved in the process. It’s important for people to see someone who looks like them in a position that isn’t always trusted by the community.”

Linda Birts, volunteer, and member of Mt. Zion’s Health Ministry

“It’s good to have it (COVID-19 vaccine) delivered in a place where people feel comfortable,” said Linda Birts, a longtime member of Zion Baptist Church and its active Health Ministry.

“It’s spun in the media as if our community isn’t interested and that’s not true,” she lamented. “Sure, it’s important that people get it, but even more important they understand the system — this time — means them no harm.”