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ONME: Fresno Black churches talk COVID-19 experiences; SoCal Black churches to become testing sites

By Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media and ONME Newswire

In new podcast show, It's ONME Local-Fresno, Producer host Julia Dudley Najieb reviews the latest COVID-19 vaccine locations, information, and updates from the Fresno County Department of Public Health followed by town hall, " A message from the Fresno Black churches," featuring Pastor B.T. Lewis, Jr., Reverend Chester L. McGensy and Reverend Dominic Holland.

Black churches have historically been the safe haven for the Black community; from racial injustice to social inequity, they have been the pillar of strength, hope and encouragement for the masses of Black people suffering such oppression.

The latest COVID-19 pandemic is no exception to the rule; from prayer to mental comfort the need has been just as great in Black church communities where congregants are suffering loss, homelessness and unemployment.

Black churches throughout California have found ways to adapt to the new technologically forced communications, even during the historical technical divide that is preventing many Black people from information online and access to the internet. From socially distanced home visits, to phone calls, pastors and reverends are overwhelmed but ready; they realize the task set before them is huge but doable.

In Fresno, California, Pastor B.T. Lewis, Jr. of Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church, Reverend Chester L. McGensy of Family Community Church and Reverend Dominic Holland of Carter Memorial AME Church spoke as panelists during The ONME Network's COVID-19 town-hall series on new video podcast show, It's ONME Local-Fresno.

The reverends shared their personal experiences with COVID-19, along with how the virus is affecting their congregations.

All three panelists took the COVID-19 vaccine and shared their experiences of what happened to them and others.

Watch or listen above to more about their COVID-19 experiences from the Black church perspective.


COVID-19 testing is coming to Black churches in Southern California

The Tabernacle Community Development Corporation (TCDC) in partnership with the Los Angeles County Health Services has launched a new program to expand access to free community-based COVID-19 testing in the Black community.

TCDC is setting in motion its effort in some areas of Los Angeles County where there have been the most minority COVID-19 deaths, infections and hospitalizations. The death rate for African Americans in California’s most populous county is 155 for every 100,000 people compared to 95 for every 100,000 among Whites.

Latinos in Los Angeles County have the highest death rate at 276 for every 100,000.

This expansion is part of the “Black Church COVID-19 Testing Partnership,” a Southern California grassroots public initiative that will provide free coronavirus exams at pop-up health centers located at 35 Black churches.

The program goal is to provide free tests to 150 individuals at each church location daily through June 30.

“Throughout Black communities in California, and across the country, lack of medical service has resulted in a disproportionate and an inequitable higher percentage of deaths and infections by this deadly pandemic,” said the Rev. J. Edgar Boyd, Senior Minister at First AME Church of Los Angeles, commonly called “FAME” by Black Angelenos.

“The Black community bears a great burden with poor health outcomes due to longstanding inequities and racism in healthcare and related institutions,” Boyd continued. “The Black church has long played the role of advocate and provider, a place of trust. When the government failed us historically, the church stepped in to provide and care for our community. That work continues today.”

So far, across California, about 7.5 million vaccines have been administered in the state. L.A. County residents – who total to about 10.4 million people -- have received about 1.4 million of those COVID-19 shots.


About 2.8 % of all African Americans across the state have been vaccinated. Black Californians make about around 6% of the state’s total population of about 40 million people.

The African American Community Empowerment Council of California (AACECC), a San Francisco-based non-profit, has also kicked off an effort to provide COVID-19 exam sites at eight churches in Black communities that have been under-tested since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Working in collaboration with the TCDC of San Francisco, the launch also includes onsite, drive-thru COVID-19 testing at FAME. Founded in 1872, FAME is the oldest house of worship founded by African Americans in the city and one of the eight churches that will host COVID-19 testing sites.

The new testing sites at the churches will not require appointments, removing one barrier that has prevented some African Americans around the country from getting tested.

“L.A. County is grateful to work alongside First A.M.E. Church of Los Angeles, a long-time leader in this community, to roll out this new program that will increase COVID-19 testing access for the County’s Black residents,” Dr. Hong said. “While L.A. County has made strides in expanding access to COVID-19 testing, this new partnership will further ensure equitable access to testing for the Black community as testing remains a critical piece of reducing community transmission and improving health outcomes.”

Los Angeles County Health Services formed the partnership because the Black clergy and the church community has proven to be a trusted source of information and influence in the Black community, members of the African American clergy in Los Angeles say.

“Trust is sacred, and it hangs by a thread between the Black community and some of our institutions. The church has always been the bridge to engage the Black community, rebuilding the trust that has been broken,” said the Rev. Gerald Agee, founder and pastor of Friendship Christian Church (FCC).

“We urge those in our community to get tested. It is one way to help keep you and those you live with safe,” Agee continued.

Los Angeles County Health Services (DHS) is the second-largest municipal health system in the United States – after New York Health and Hospitals. Through its integrated system of 27 health centers and four hospitals - and an expansive network of community partner clinics – DHS annually provides direct care for over 600,000 patients, employs over 23,000 staff, and has an annual budget of over $6 billion.

Boyd said he looks forward to joining hands with the county and state to fulfill a critical healthcare need in his community.

“We are thankful for the support of Dr. Clemens Hong of the Los Angeles County Health Services, other county officials and Governor Gavin Newsom and his administration for the investment in this testing partnership with Black churches,” he added.

For additional information regarding the testing sites and DHS, please visit



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