What led you to start organizing vaccination clinics in Durham?
I was the first person in the United States to get the COVID vaccine from Walgreens. It was covered on Good Morning America. The country was able to see a little old Black lady getting her vaccine done live on television at 7:06 in the morning—which opened a lot of people up to trusting it.
But when the vaccines became available at my neighborhood Walgreens, a lot of people [in the neighborhood] didn’t have computers, or couldn’t afford internet, or had a language barrier, so appointments were not really open to them. And I noticed that a lot of the people filling up the store’s appointment calendar were coming from other cities and even other states. There weren’t enough slots available for the people who live and work in the neighborhood.
In early 2021, I talked to the Walgreens—it’s the one on Fayetteville Street and Lakewood Avenue—and they agreed to shut their computer scheduling system down for a weekend and block off the time for people in the neighborhood. So my daughter and I went door to door. People know me, so, again, there was a trust component. We dispelled all the myths: that there were tracking devices in the vaccines; that there were different vaccines for white people and Black and brown people; that the vaccine will make you sterile. We allayed the fear in the community.
So many people showed up to the first clinic that the Walgreens store let us block off more weekends over the next six months. We vaccinated thousands of people. With the new booster out, we’re starting the clinics up again.
To clarify, do you vaccinate people yourself?
No. Pharmacy techs come in. What I do is knock on doors, help people fill out their paperwork and sit with them at the clinic. You get a bottled juice and some crackers. I’ll hold your hand and I’ll pat your back. People usually stick with me for about 15 minutes [after getting vaccinated], because I want to make sure they don’t have any kind of reaction. For seniors, I organize remote clinics at apartment buildings. My daughter [Alex] speaks Spanish, so she helps with the paperwork, and she’s also certified to administer vaccines, so she helps give the shots.
We also help people get vouchers for flu shots. Many of the people in this community work six days a week and don’t have $60 for a flu shot. Their jobs don’t provide insurance, and even though there’s supposedly an affordable marketplace [for health care], people can’t afford it on their salary.
Do the clinics fall under the blanket of your primary initiative, the Mustard Seed Project? And can you talk a little bit about what the Mustard Seed Project is?
The Mustard Seed Project is really just [conducted by] myself and my daughter. We serve food to over 300 people and families a week. We go around to grocery stores and restaurants and load up my van with food that would have been thrown away [due to store policies around sell-by dates]. Some of the store managers know me and they know that the food is going to people who need it. The Tall Grass CSA also gives us a lot of produce, and Feed Durham helps us out.
I distribute it to lots of different places: courthouses, churches, doctors’ offices. At apartment complexes, I’ll blow the horn and people will come out and get what they want.
The Mustard Seed Project is based on the idea that with faith, a little teeny speck of a seed can grow to be over six feet tall. We take the little bit that we have and plant it in fertile soil, meaning we work very hard. We want to give people what they need to grow. So our main focus has been food. But we do what needs to be done at the moment. People were dying. They needed to be vaccinated.
When and where are the upcoming clinics, what vaccines can people get, and who are the clinics open to?
Most of the people who come to the clinics are people who I serve food to, but the clinics are open to anyone who needs a shot—you just have to contact me [at themustardseedprojectnc.com], because I’ll put the appointment in the calendar for you.
We’re doing a remote clinic for people who live at JJ Henderson apartments on October 10. At the Walgreens on Fayetteville Street, we’ll have clinics from 10:00 a.m. to six p.m. on October 7–8, November 4–5 and 11–12, and potentially some weekends in December or January, depending on how bad the new [COVID-19] variant ends up being. We do COVID vaccines, flu shots, and the RSV vaccine for people over 60.
My goal is 250 people a weekend.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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