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THORNBURY  –  Getting vaccinated is about love for others. That was the message organizers at Cheyney University had for their  Martin Luther King,Jr. Day of Service event Monday.

To encourage vaccinations among communities of color the school held a Keep Black Love Alive campaign, one of over 50 events across the United States in the past three days in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and to promote the creative cultural response to the COVID-19 pandemic and social inequities.

The keynote speaker was West Chester Mayor Lillian DeBaptiste, the borough’s first Black female mayor.

“Until you help yourself and get yourself help … you’re no good for nobody. That’s what in my mind, Keeping Black Love is about,” said DeBaptiste. “It’s about love that we get vaccinated, it’s about love for our community, it’s about love for ourselves, it’s about love so we can take care of others,”

DeBaptiste said as a funeral director she has seen the devastation when COVID spreads through families.

“I have been on the front lines and I have seen the families’ loss, first the mother, then the father, and you end up having a double service,” DeBaptiste said. “I’ve witnessed the stories, I’ve witnessed the tears, and I can tell you it is important that we show that self-love.”

A main component of the day was a vaccination clinic in which over 200 students lined up to get shots of Pfizer, Moderna and booster vaccines.

DeBaptiste said she would like to see the community take care of their own health and while disparities in the country have caused minorities to not always and have equal access to health care, it’s important that each and every one of them take care of their own lives.

DeBaptiste told the students they represent the best and brightest of the future and getting there requires taking care of their minds and bodies through eating right, staying away from things that are destructive such as cigarettes as well as  being aware of the pre-existing conditions that are in the Black community such as diabetes.

“We cannot afford to dismiss this COVID vaccine,” DeBaptiste said. “This COVID and Omicron and all the other variants does not discriminate. It comes after you, it comes after me, and it comes after us all.”

She reminded students that while they recover from the virus, they do not want to bring it back to elders who may not be able to outrun the disease.

“So you’re not the carrier taking it back to your aunty, or your grandmother, or your brother or your elder mother or father, ”DeBaptiste said.  “We live in multi-generational homes and there are other people impacted by your choices. You have the capability of fighting the virus but there are others around you who don’t have the same capability, so it’s their lives you have to protect as well.”

“Taking care of your own home is where love starts, loving yourself enough to take care of yourself to love others in your family or in your friends circle is what real love is all about,” she said.

DeBaptiste spoke about the suspicion some have about what is in the vaccine.

“I’m sorry if you’re going to McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King, I’m sorry you don’t know what is in that food,” she said. “If you’re a vegan and eating Beyond Burgers, that’s GMO modified, that’s man-made, that’s not plant based, so you don’t know what’s in it unless you are a purest. And if you are my hat’s off to you.”

Lankenau Medical Center physician Sophia Panaccione seconded DeBaptiste’s comments.

“We know that minorities are uniquely affected by COVID, by the illnesses that come because of COVID. The most important thing right now is that everybody is as educated as possible,” Panaccione said. “

Panaccione presented an enlightening discussion looking at the origins of the vaccines that have been known in the medical community for over 50 years.  She busted some of the myths that have caused hesitancy in getting the vaccine.

“Fact or fiction, these vaccines can give you COVID?” Panaccione asked. “Fiction. The vaccine is a copy of the mRNA… it’s not the whole virus. We engineer this process, take a piece of a virus and use it to transport material. We started that in 2014, all the way through 2019  in making a vaccine for Ebola with this same exact technology. We have tons of studies that show that viral vector vaccines are safe … and effective.”

Panaccione said that used that technology to make the COVID-19 vaccines in 2019-20 for COVID-19.

“What the most important thing you guys can do is educate yourselves and know you can best protect yourself and then you can protect others and help others,” she said.

In addition to the featured speakers a number of students and alumni presented creative works at the event.

Cheyney alumni Amir Campbell was working on one of his series of paintings focusing on comfort.

“This is expressing the comfort of children getting their vaccine, the comfort of their doctor, the comfort of their mom and the comfort of their security blanket which here is a Teddy bear,” Campbell said as he explained his work. “It’s showing this tough process of getting the vaccine, how the comfort is there.”

Madeson-Paiyge Colbert, a junior at Cheyney, said her work was about the feeling of quarantine.

“Being isolated,” she said. “Figuring out what people need to do better in their life or more of. It’s sad but healing because you have to figure out what to do when the world was shut down.”

Poetry from graduate student Mik Ponds was a variation of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

It read in part: “I had a dream, that one day unconditioned love for thy neighbor would reign,  one day …we press on, we stay the course, as one world, divided never again.”

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