Community in crisis: black churches extend their services

DETROIT — Jean Sherman received a call from a friend during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic telling her about a nearby church where she could get the vaccine.

The Detroit resident also found that King Solomon’s historic Baptist Church helped people with their rent and bills and also held job fairs.

“So yeah, I took it upon myself to bring myself and my sister here because she needed help, and I really needed help,” Sherman said. “I might end up joining because I love that stuff here where a pastor reaches out to the community to help people. This is the kind of pastor I’m looking for.

Pastor Charles Williams II at the historic King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit. Image credit: Eric Bronson.

Charles Williams II, pastor of King Solomon’s historic Baptist Church and civil rights activist, mobilized hundreds at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the city’s most vulnerable are taken care of . Williams’ emergency response effort gained momentum and quickly responded to needs in Detroit that existing social services and local government infrastructure could not meet.

“When people were already immobilized in so many ways before the pandemic, my concern was how they would cope with immunocompromised seniors in a household, limited transportation, overcrowded housing and tight finances,” said Williams.

Williams, who received a Masters in Social Work from the University of Michigan, is currently pursuing his PhD in Social Work and Sociology and is a Research Associate at UM Poverty Solutions.

To this end, her research objectives are based on finding effective interventions to increase access to the social safety net and ensure health equity by using black churches at the neighborhood level for underserved black populations. in Detroit. The historic church has been home to many black heroes, including Malcom X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Thurgood Marshall.

With high COVID-19 morbidity and mortality rates in the black community nationwide, Williams has focused his academic and intervention efforts on tackling vaccine reluctance and food insecurity. He is a co-investigator of the National Institutes of Health Community-Centered Interventions Grant for Improved Uptake of COVID Vaccines and a stakeholder member of the Michigan Community Engagement Alliance, funded by the NIH.

Volunteers from King Solomon's historic Baptist Church distribute food to people during a food drive.  Image credit: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography

Volunteers from King Solomon’s historic Baptist Church distribute food to people during a food drive. Image credit: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography

UM research has shown that black Americans are more reluctant to get vaccinated even though they are more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19. Williams’ work suggests that black churches can work wonders by connecting people to what they need – vaccinations, COVID tests, mental health treatment and basic needs – and has formed a consortium of more than 30 churches in the town, which benefited from the support of the local population. foundations and government agencies.

The consortium is part of the Detroit Benevolence Society, which tries to break down barriers between services such as legal advice, employment, technology and those in need, said Chanel Taylor, co-founder of the company.

“We don’t take them here to listen to a sermon. We bring them here for help, ”she said. “Sometimes other social service agencies can pop them through a lot of hoops or can advertise certain types of services available and they’re not really available. Having him here at the church puts him in a central location, which is really our goal to have different churches in each community able to do things like that.

Last year, the consortium donated over 750,000 meals to community members. They did this with over 50 volunteers who packed boxes in churches, distributed them on site, and in some cases delivered them to older people in need.

For decades, the Black Church has nurtured the mind, body, and spirit of the Black community. With that confidence, he served the black community as an underground social service agency, its alternative school, meeting place, and convention center. Williams seeks to bring this work to the forefront and help reposition resources to black churches that do the work, but rarely receive the resources.

“Just imagine if black churches, many of which specialize in making strawless bricks, actually received resources to do the job? Williams said. “We could potentially have a real impact on the social determinants of health and have a significant impact on black poverty and inequality within the underserved population of the city of Detroit.

Pastor Charles Williams II at the historic King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit.  Image credit: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography

Pastor Charles Williams II, with his staff and volunteers, provides opportunities such as career fairs, free legal advice, housing leads, COVID testing and vaccines at Historic King Solomon Baptist Church. Image credit: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography

“The implications for success in America’s blackest, poorest city could provide data suggesting a new evidence-based practice for using black churches as health centers and social service agencies. “

The UM School of Social Work has partnered with Williams for its COVID-19 relief efforts. At first, the school sent social work students to help with food and supplies, packaging and delivery, logistics, and administrative support. These social work students also performed wellness checks, using their skills to alleviate stress and fear and to connect residents with other resources in the community.

The school has also supported grant writing and introduced Williams to philanthropists and other city fundraisers.

He has been influenced by some of the best in their fields such as Luke Shaefer and Kristin Seefeldt of Poverty Solutions, Trina Shanks of the School of Social Work, Ken Resnicow of the School of Public Health and Jeffrey Morenoff, lead researcher for the Greater Montreal area. Detroit. Community study.

“Charles went from master’s to doctorate. program because he was really excited about the ways that he, as a pastor, and working with black churches, could really make an impact on his community, ”Shanks said. “And he felt he needed more education, better practices and research to, on the one hand, legitimize what he does, but also learn so he can do better.”

Written by Sonia Harb, School of Social Work

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