The last few times my family has visited me in Durham, we’ve stopped for dinner at Mi Pequeño Honduras, a restaurant on Club Boulevard that caught our collective eye when I first moved here thanks to the fact that it claims our last name and my grandmother’s home country. It’s a small joint where the employees and patrons mainly speak Spanish, and my dad likes to strike up conversations with the employees.
The last time we visited was after my whole family had been vaccinated. As we got our to-go boxes and browsed the small snack selection, my dad stayed around to talk to the cashier. When we got to the car, he explained that they’d been chatting about the vaccine. The woman behind the register was not yet vaccinated and had some concerns about side effects. My dad mentioned that our whole family, even our grandparents, had already gotten their shot. She asked about what the experience had been like, and they talked about it.
I don’t know if my dad talking to a random cashier convinced her to get a COVID-19 vaccine, but I know doing this was probably more meaningful than any statistic or forceful tactic I’d seen attempted by the national or state governments. Even as more people push the idea that the vaccine-hesitant cannot be changed, there are people staring that claim down and proving it wrong through kindness and conversation.
For this week’s Sunday Reading, we’re actually recommending a “Sunday Viewing” from The New Yorker about a woman in rural Alabama named Dorothy Oliver. Oliver and county commissioner Drucilla Russ-Jackson are calling people on the phone, showing up as they’re on the grill, and speaking to them as members of a united community. In a community of about 400, in the state with the lowest vaccination rates across the nation, and without a clinic regularly administering the vaccine, 94 percent of adults have had at least one dose.
In the video, we see Oliver interact with a young man named LaDenzel on his journey from vaccine skeptic to the first jab of the Moderna vaccine into his arm at a pop-up clinic. Throughout the time, Oliver tells him her family’s experiences with COVID, answers some of his questions, and makes sure he follows through.
“There’s this very warm and kind of loving and caring way that Dorothy and Ms. Jackson approached those conversations, even when people aren’t in agreement,” director Rachael DeCruz told The New Yorker. “And it wasn’t done in a way that’s, like, ‘I know better than you.’”
Being frustrated is understandable. As the nation prepares for a second potential lockdown thanks to the Delta variant, many folks are begging their neighbors to get the vaccine. However, “The Panola Project” shows what lies at the root of this issue: the fear of the unknown, and the discouragement of elitism.
Oliver succinctly summed up her method for convincing people to get vaccinated:
“I just be nice to them,” she said.
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