Buffalo HealthCast

Reverend George Nicholas, on the social determinants of health in Buffalo's Black/African American communities.

February 25, 2021 UBSPHHP Season 1 Episode 1
Buffalo HealthCast
Reverend George Nicholas, on the social determinants of health in Buffalo's Black/African American communities.
Chapters
Buffalo HealthCast
Reverend George Nicholas, on the social determinants of health in Buffalo's Black/African American communities.
Feb 25, 2021 Season 1 Episode 1
UBSPHHP

Reverend George Nicholas is the pastor of Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church-Buffalo, an active member of the Concerned Clergy and co-convener of the African-American Health Equity Task Force. Listen and learn about public health community engagement from both of these organizations as well as how public health and COVID-19 have interacted with our #BuffaloNY community.

Show Notes Transcript

Reverend George Nicholas is the pastor of Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church-Buffalo, an active member of the Concerned Clergy and co-convener of the African-American Health Equity Task Force. Listen and learn about public health community engagement from both of these organizations as well as how public health and COVID-19 have interacted with our #BuffaloNY community.

Hello, and welcome to Buffalo Health cast, a podcast by students, faculty, and, staff of the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions. We are your cohosts Tia Palermo, Jessica Kruger, and Schuyler Lawson.  

 

Schuyler Lawson: In this podcast we cover topics related to health equity here in Buffalo, around the US and globally. In this first semester of the podcast we’re taking a deeper look at racism and health.  

 

Jessica Kruger: We’ll be talking to experts around the US, as well as individuals here on campus, and in the Buffalo community who are working to remove inequities, and improve population health and well being. You’ll hear from practitioners, researchers, students and faculty from other universities, who have made positive changes to improve health equity and inclusion.  

 

Schuyler Lawson: Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of Buffalo Health Cast,  

The University of Buffalo Premier Public Health podcast. 

 

I am your host, Schuyler Lawson, a first year PhD candidate in community health and health behavior. With us today is our Reverend George Nicholas, co convener of the African-American Health Equity Task Force and a member of the Concerned Clergy Coalition of western New York. Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed with us today. 

 

Reverend George Nicholas: Well, it's certainly an honor and a great opportunity to be with you today. 

 

Schuyler Lawson: All right, great. So first off, for our listeners, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?  

 

 

Reverend George Nicholas: Yeah, I'm from Buffalo. This is my home grew up here and then went to Ohio State University for undergraduate and then came back to the area, have a graduate degree from the University of Buffalo and had been working, doing various jobs, doing things, I’ve owned companies I was CEO of Geneva B. Scruggs Community Health Care Center at the time, and then I decided to answer the call that the lord put on my life many years ago, to go into ministry full time. And I did that. And it was pastoring Rochester for about 12 years. And then, you know, the Lord called me back to Buffalo. I've been here since I've been back here since 2012. 

 

Schuyler Lawson: A lot of history in Buffalo.  

 

Reverend George Nicholas: Yeah. Oh, yeah, yeah, it's home, and, you know, I've seen the ups and the downs and, you know, I think we have an opportunity to really do something transformative right now. And it's necessary because, you know, I've seen out Black Buffalo really hasn't progressed. 

 

You know, I mean, some of the things that in terms of, you know, we have less businesses now, we have less community based organizations. We're so vulnerable. I mean, we used to have, well, the Geneva Scruggs Community Health Center, which was a community health center that served this community, we had the St. Augustine Center, which is a tremendous community based organization on Fillmore Avenue. They're no longer there. The Langston Hughes Cultural Center, which was at 50 High Street was a tremendous cultural center. The Friends of the Elderly, and there were a number of programs and that were run by black people and that address the needs of black people. 

 

And over time, these things have not been supported by the, you know, the existing political establishment. And they've  gone away. And so and you certainly on the business side. You know, we had tons of of cleaners and restaurants and all kinds of things, you know, Jefferson Avenue, Fillmore Avenue, parts of Genesee, they were bustling with black owned and operated companies. And so and then finally and I know when you get to these questions, but I think it's important to put things in a context. 

 

You know, my you know, when I'm 57 and, you know, when we were coming up in their area, 

the notion of, you know, black kids not graduating from high school wasn't even a conversation. 

You graduate from high school. And you know, it was, you know. And so but now, you know, we have folks struggling just to graduate from high school. And then even as they matriculate on to the campuses at the University of Buffalo, it is probably is probably less black students from Buffalo there now than there was fifteen, twenty years ago. And so we have to we got to turn this thing around, Schuyler. We're not going in the right direction. And so we'll talk about that a little bit later, too, if you want to. 

 

Schuyler Lawson: I agree with you. I agree with you. And like you said, even though even though, you know, the current you know, the current situation appears to be bleak. You did say that there is an opportunity for transformation and hopefully lasting changes, which is which is a great segue into, you know, about the into the African-American Health Equity Task Force, which appears to be a force for good with respect to the issues that you mentioned. 

 

Reverend George Nicholas: Yeah. Yeah. So we've been working really hard since it started off with a conversation with just a few of us. 

 

This woman, Mary Walls, was at the time working, I think, for the Heart Association or the Red Cross, one of those places, and she wanted to engage some black clergy in conversation about colorectal cancer. You know, there's a disproportionate amount of black people who suffer from that. 

 

And so I challenge the group to think bigger and to look at, you know, the overall health of black buffalo. 

 

The factors that were driving high colorectal cancers are the same factors that are driving diabetes and heart disease and asthma and all kinds of things, hypertension. And it's the social determinants of health. 

 

There has to be a shift. Between thinking about and looking at black health and putting all the blame upon the behavior of people in the black community, that old adage, well, you just eat too much fried foods and all this other stuff. Well, that's part of that. That's part of the equation. But when you look at what you know, the reputable organizations that deal with public health, the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control, the National Institute of Health. And every reputable organization that focuses on public health will tell you that the driving factor, the most influential factor out there that impacts the health of an individual are the social determinants of health. The lived environment, the economic status, educational attainment, interfacing with the criminal justice system, the the air and water quality in the neighborhood, the quality of your housing stock. 

 

These are the things that that that drive health outcomes. 

 

And if you live in a community where you have access to the things that you need to maintain good health, then your health outcomes will be significantly better. But if you're living in a community where you don't have access to fresh fruits and vegetables because there's no grocery stores that are within a close distance proximity to your community, it makes it difficult for you to purchase the things that you want to put in your refrigerators and on your dinner table that are healthy. 

 

And if you're living in a situation where your economic status is such that you have limited income and limited resources, then you know, the food choices that you make for you and your family are going to be influenced by your income, not necessarily about what's always healthy, because healthier food is more expensive in a lot of places 

 

And then we'll say, well, why don't you just change your economic status? 

 

Well, you know, if the job opportunities are not available for you and your community or if the jobs are there's a lot of jobs and Grand Island and places like that. But if there's that transportation and you don't have means for that transportation, then that creates a problem for you. 

 

And so, you know, these are the things that drive these what we call the social determinants of health. And when so our work, our mission with the African-American Health Equity Task Force, it started off calling ourselves the African-American Health Disparities Task Force. 

But we wanted to shift our thinking to a more aspiration. We want to talk about where do we want to be. 

 

Right, and where we want to be is health equity. And so we we're we're unapologetic, concerned with the health conditions of black people. This is not a minority thing. And not to to take hits or slights. 

 

But there are unique set of circumstances that are attached to the enslavement of the African people really in this hemisphere. Starting in 1519. When you look at the you know, the slave trade by the Spaniards and the Dutch and other those in and in the French in the South and Central America, and then escalating in to around 1619, migrating up north to what is called what they called North America. But it was a land that was inhabited by the indigenous people.  

 

And then so this whole Notion of the enslavement of African people in this region has from beginning begun the process of the social determinants of health. 

 

Right, because the lived environment, economic opportunities, housing rights. 

 

And from that moment. African people living in America were at a disadvantage. And that continued throughout generations.  

 

So you have slave enslavement from 1619 to1865. But even longer than that Schuyler, because when you when you with the enactment of black codes and African American men forced to work in steel mills and coal mines in Alabama, Tennessee and other parts of the South after being arrested for vagrancy. 

 

Right, and then the inability to get to accumulate wealth through to the sharecropping system and just the debt that was begun to just weigh upon freed African people living in America. And so that just, you know, from generation to generation passed on. 

 

And then even as we began to migrate into the north and beginning to fill these some of these jobs in during the industrialization, but then as these jobs became unionized and into the migration of those from Western Europe, began to come in from Italy and Ireland and other places like that. And Poland, they took those jobs. They displaced folks who were who had migrated from the south and moved up to the north. 

 

And so then, so this whole economic disenfranchisement of African people living in America has created such a wealth gap that even today in the year 2020, for every dollar of wealth a black person has in America, a white person has eighteen dollars. And so, you know, the medium, I believe, you guys are students, so you will look up this data. But it's about African-Americans who have about eighteen thousand dollars of wealth versus over a hundred thousand by whites. And I talk about income. I'm talking about wealth.  

 

Well, and why is that? 

 

Well, post Second World War, and the beginning of it, when soldiers began to be able to purchase homes as a result of the G.I. Bill. They were they were pushed into communities, segregated communities. And then and red lines were drawn and soldiers couldn't even use their G.I. Bill that they had earned on the battlefield, fighting for freedom for other people and forced to live in communities that, you know, just to create an economic disparity. And then as banks over time, as banks value property. Right. Because your biggest asset is your property. Right. 

And one of the factors that they put into in terms of valuation of your property is the demographics, let me say, of that community. So black folks living in black communities, buying homes, investing in homes, but then getting less equity out of their properties than white people in white communities. 

 

Right. And then you have what I call ghetto taxes. If you have your car insurances is going to be higher if you live in a black community, then if you live in a white community, life insurance, higher premiums, if you're black than if you're white. So all these things, they just, they just suck the well out of black communities and then finally the interaction with the criminal justice system. Where, you know, black people are disproportionately arrested and convicted for crimes. 

Higher bails, longer sentencing.  

 

And so what happens when a young black person gets in trouble with the law? 

 

Well, it's grandmama and them that have to dip into the savings, the dollars that they began to generate wealth with or that they would want to pass down to their family members. Second mortgages taken on that house that they finally paid up to pay to pay legal fees and things like this. 

 

And so this whole this whole cycle, it just, again, sucking the wealth out of the community, which creates and feeds into these disparities. And so this is the level of how we want to attach this these issues of health inequities or health disparities as opposed to just doing what the traditional health fairs and giving people balloons and coffee mugs and thinking that that's going to change outcomes.  

 

Schuyler Lawson: in light of this, you know, the daunting challenges that you listed, what is what is the African-American health equity task force some factor in alleviating or kind of even, you know, solving the problems caused by this multigenerational structural damage that's been brought upon the black communities? 

 

Reverend George Nicholas: Well, it starts with, you know, truth telling. Right. It's you can't you can't address problems that you don't recognize are problems, so we want to change the narrative about why these conditions exist and to focus more on systemic changes, and looking more at systemic causes so that that out so that our solutions are will impact the systemic causes mean. 

 

Let me put it this way.  

 

One of the things that, you know, I'm not critical of it, I'm just trying to make an analysis is that one of the things that happens every year is the beginning of the school year. 

 

People who where we speak, and I use this analogy all the time, is there's always this big push to get kids backpacks through and to give kids bread brand-new backpacks. Yet there's no data, that says the reason why Black children are underperforming in an urban schools is because they don't have a backpack. 

 

Right, and so the remedy, has nothing to do with the problem, because if the kid, if the child, is still going to a failing school in an at risk neighborhood, and if mother and father still don't have the kind of economic opportunities, the air and water quality in their community, and all these other factors, if that has not been impacted, then the fact that this child has a new backpack, really will have a limited, if any, impact upon their ability to achieve academic excellence. 

 

Not talking about passing right, we shifted our thinking and I’m so proud, brother, that you work on your PhD, but the thought process that we're just, you know, think about this man. We're putting a lot of energy in, if necessary, because of what the current reality is to get kids. Our children just to pass. Right. 

 

And what we really should be pushing is, is scholarship and academic excellence. 

 

Right. Right. If you if you would, you have to get a 70 or 65 to pass, say, 70 if you get a 70. 

That means that 30 percent of the information that was provided for you you didn't get. 30 percent. That's a sizable chunk. That's right. 

 

Right. So, our work is to look at systemic issues, raising concerns, and then them bring forth community collaboration's to bring community based solutions. And then engaging partners, institutional partners to invest their resources and to the solutions. 

 

Whether, whether it be financial resources, whether it be intellectual capacity, whether it be access to information, whatever these institutions have that could be available to them. We're saying, use those resources and invest to invest this into to create a problem solving as it relates to the issues in the African-American community. 

 

Schuyler Lawson: Thank. Thank you for your response. It helps our listeners understand the breadth of what the African-American Health Equity Task Force does. 

 

I do have a particular question on what have been some of the approaches that the task force has taken with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic? 

 

Reverend George Nicholas: Yeah. Well, there, we have a good news story there, Schuyler Good.  

And it shows it's actually proof positive to our hypothesis of the importance of community collaboratives. And supporting black leadership. 

 

And let me let me frame this for you. 

 

So since we have been doing so, we put out there our report in 2015 about the conditions of the African-American good health conditions, which show that you can people can have access to these reports at BuffaloHealthEquity.org, and in our at our initial report, just using state and county data and concentrating on five or six zip codes where the predominant number of African-Americans live on the east side, us, we found that that in terms of just looking at chronic disease, that an African-American who lives in one of those communities has a 300 percent 

more likelihood to have a chronic disease than a white person who lives outside of the area. 

 

Schuyler Lawson: So we're talking about. Very stark.  

 

Reverend George Nicholas: Right, right. And it translates to about 10 to 12 lost years of life. 

Right. And so we're at work, we were equipped with the data. 

 

And so when and so when COVID-19, emerged, we knew that as because of the high rates of diabetes, asthma and heart disease, which are three comorbidities that make it individual more susceptible to COVID-19, that the African-American community would be hit the hardest.  

Also, would you put on top of that? 

 

We know that a lot of the essential workers who work in these health care spaces, health care aides, security people, people who work in dietary and environmental services, as well as the nursing in the medical area. 

 

There is a high concentration of people from our communities that live with that, that are employed at those other level jobs. 

 

And so they would be coming into these environments where, you know, Covid was present and then going back into their communities, sometimes using public transportation, sometimes catch it, arrive with the uncle and them. 

 

And so and so we know that there was a real potential. 

 

So we reached out to back in March to the county executive and the health commissioner and some other leaders in the healthcare field with leaders from our community, Dr. Vasquez and others. And we said to them, say, listen, what's your plan? What's the plan? We know this is coming. We laid out, you know, the possible vulnerabilities of our community. 

 

And at that moment, they really hadn't thought began to think about those things in those terms. So what we said to them said, listen, we're going to come back to you with a plan, a plan on how we're going to address this issue and we need you to resource it. We need you to support it, right, because these are our dollars as well. And so and so after some going back and forth and what have you, we were able to to use some of the Medicaid reimbursement moneys to the district, 

the Millennium Collaborative Care through Erie County, being able to to stand up what we call the COVID-19 response team. 

 

And what we did Schuyler, we put, we've got fifteen churches on the eastern west side. And we developed these Covid response call centers, and we got we got lists from the Board of Elections and other sources. And we had our targeted area and we hired a lot of younger people who a lot of them were home from college, you know. Got them an iPhone, got them a laptop, got them a list. Dr. Vasquez and his team through GBUAHN had developed this tremendous I.T. system that allowed for our responders to actually make appointments for people right there, from where it right from their call center, what have you. And so we literally called people in our community. 

 

And then we learned to they were there's still a percentage of people in our community that don't have a cell phone or landline. So we engage the National Witness Project who are already doing some community engagement, community health work type stuff and we said to them, ‘knock on these doors for us because we can't reach these people’. 

 

And so why were we reached out to them?  

 

Well, we want to find out one, you know, if they had any symptoms, two did they have access to a test, three, do they have a primary care physician, four do they have some food, a food insecurities, five, how are they doing mentally, so we ask these five questions pretty much. 

 

And we were able to not only ask those questions, but to give some kind of response to attaching people to help. Right. So if you're you know, if you're having this some of these symptoms or what have you. Hey, you know, get to your get your primary care. Oh, you don't have a primary care. Well, we'll you know, through our network, we've got GBUAHN and we've got Jericho Road. Good lead up. We can plug you in to a primary care physician or you need transportation. 

 

We'll get someone to come pick you up, you need food.  

 

We engage with that, Alex, over at the African Heritage Food Co-op. Tremendous job. And we said to him so, to Alex, here's a chunk of money, get what you need and then let's set up a delivery system. Right. And so when people needed food, we were able to get it to them. 

 

We work with Best Help if they're people needed some mental health stuff because people are dealing with a lot of stuff. Make you make that appointment for you. And then when we learned that there weren't enough testing sites within community, we were able to stand up the testing side at the Leroy Coles Library. We said to those who had access to testing, we need tests at our community health centers because the people at the Community Health Center, people, Jericho Road, the people at [inaudible] Medicine, those those sites, they're already dealing with people in our community prior to Covid. So they need to have access to the resources in order to get them some help. 

 

And so, you know, it wasn't easy, but we kind of put this plan together. 

 

So here's the good news, so when we started the project in March, April, and the first data started coming in, now nationally, African-Americans are dying in about two and a half to three times their population rate as it relates to Covid. Erie County African-Americans make up 14.6% of the population in Erie County. The early data was showing that about 33 percent of the fatalities were from the African-American community. Which was trending pretty much at the national level. But then, as we did our work, made our calls, connected people to resources. Gave people access to PPE and others, and not only us, but there were other partners in the community. So what happened is we were able to stimulate and generate some energy that not only our project was having an impact, but it loosened other resources and other things within community where others were doing some really great work as well. 

 

Right. And. And so. Ah, so as the data began to come back, we saw it trending downward to the point where in June, only 16.7% of the fatalities. In Erie County were from the black community. 

And to make it even better, the latest data we got just this week, even in the midst of the second wave and the trending upward, that only 14.7% of the deaths are from the black community, which was right in alignment, statistically in alignment with the population.  

 

We're one of the few cities in America that can make that claim. 

 

Why is that?  

 

Black leadership with a vision. 

 

We're already working in community with these around these issues, connecting with resources and systems and institutions that have an obligation to serve the black community. Right. 

 

If you're the county health department. Well, the last I heard, the black community was in Erie County, and so you so you make these systems do what they are designed to do, what their mission is. 

 

And then other health care providers and institutions, insurers and others collided and say, listen, we need you to invest your resources and help, help us get this thing done. But also critically following the leadership of health care professionals they were already operating with in those communities. Guys like Dr. Vasquez. Guys like Dr. Glick. Right. Women like Dr. Lusu, and Dr. Ansari, right, who are already there on the front lines, so they have to be resourced and equipped so that they can do what they need to do. 

 

And the results are undeniable. Data speaks for itself. 

 

Schuyler Lawson: Yeah. I mean, it's so good. Compared to nationwide data, that's I mean, it's an anomaly. You know, the work that you that you described is just amazing that the coordination and just the scale of it to achieve that type of outcome compared to like your national statistics where, you know, blacks make up, blacks pick up a significant portion of the significant and disproportionate compared to their population, a portion of the COVID-19 deaths, that’s commendable. 

 

Reverend George Nicholas: And shout out [inaudible] who provided great leadership on this and others with our team ,Dr. Underwood, Rita Robinson, Kelly Wolfrey, we are just such a wonderful team of people who have been I worked tirelessly on the issues of health equity. Right. And so but what we can't do is, is because really what our our vision with our powerful Center for Health Equity, the health of the African-American Health Equity Task Force, and then the university having its community research institute under our CTSI under Dr. Murphy. 

 

And this is another really great outcome is that, standing up that institute, and the system in an embedded in the university that is focused and its mission is to look at health disparities and to research and then not only research, but to come up with remedies and engaging not only the medical school, but the other academic disciplines, school of Education, a school of law, the School of Management, the School of Nursing, the School of Social Work. 

 

They are all partners with us in this work, so that when we start coming up with solutions, 

then we're able to draw upon the expertise that operate within these schools to come up with innovative and creative responses to some of these issues that are that are creating these health inequities. 

 

So it's a really it's you know, it's Dr. Tim Murphy has been fantastic, who is head of the CTSI. Dr. Margaret Grimsley, Dr. Henry Taylor. Dr. Heather Orum. They've all just been great partners with us in this work to the point right now where we were able to get through the School of Nursing where we’re able to get a grant a grant from what they call the grant, where we're going to be actually looking at how the impact of mental health has on these communities. 

 

Post Covid. Right. And from what I understand is, one, the first kind of community university kind of collaborations to look at issues that are specifically designed to provide information, but also support for issues in our community. 

 

So we're making some progress and we're really excited about it. 

 

Schuyler Lawson: I'm excited about it, too. And it's great to hear that this is an all this progress made at the community level and different types of institutional levels we're dealing with beyond every county Department of Public Health and also to, you know, getting our U.B. on board, which is located within the community. So we might as well have a stake and open the ability. 

 

Reverend George Nicholas: I mean, universities have a responsibility, ability to do problem-solving. And, you know, what's the point of doing all this research and having all this knowledge if you don't take the research and knowledge to better humanity? 

 

And, you know, it's it's so that message has been heard, and the university, an institution has been very responsive and we're very hopeful in the future or at about the future, about the work we we're going to do together.  

 

Schuyler Lawson: So I have another question. So what is what is the. The. The Concern Clergy Coalition of Western New York, and how do you how do they relate to the issues of equity that you that you mentioned? 

 

Reverend George Nicholas: So so Reverend Pointer and myself and a few others were kind of the ones right after the the death of Eric Garner, and we organize clergy, about 90 clergy in there in the area to begin to start having conversations about those issues and and how they, what's happening here in Buffalo. And and we began to start talking about, you know, thinking about how we can provide leadership around health, economic development, criminal justice and, something else, I forgot, but and so I've kind of education, school education and and so I kind of grab the health piece and we've been working, you know, ever since on those on those issues.  

 

The Concerned Clergy represents, there are about five or six different ministerial groups in the black community. And so they all kind of came together under this banner of Concerned Clergy, and we're working on these kind of social justice type issues. Doing our best to present a united front, even though we differ, in some ways on issues theologically and doctrinally, but there's there's agreement that that we must come together to work for the betterment of the conditions of our people. And so we we've been we've been functioning, you know, pretty, pretty well. 

 

It's it's difficult because, you know, historically, again, you know, there hasn't been this kind of unity amongst Black clergy., but we're not as as divided as people think, but we're not as unified as we should be. So we're a work in progress. But, you know, the concern clergy has been functioning and certainly Reverend Pointer has been a leader in that group. And, you know, so so we've been really spending a lot of our energies around health issues. Bishops NAME, a lot of energy around education. 

 

And so, you know, we're trying to span out our influence in in these spaces. 

 

Schuyler Lawson: Thanks. Thanks for providing that background. I have another question, so has the as the Contents Concerned Clergy Coalition of Western New York played any roles and say I'm addressing in addressing the issues surrounding the pandemic. 

 

Reverend George Nicholas: Well, yeah, I mean, it's it's, so I wear a lot of hats. Yes, so. So. So. When, when, when, when I'm operating in these spaces, concerned clergy, I'm representing them. 

 

You know what I mean? So, so, so. And every report back, we have conversations about things. 

And, you know. I know I can always depend upon these guys and ladies for support. And so and so the the efforts around the pandemic have really been channeled through our work to the Buffalo Center for Health Equity and African-American Health Equity Task Force. Right. So so the Concerned Clergy are are are part of that work. 

 

And so. And. And we've. And we're. And then when other churches and other groups try to do things, we will support them and resource them, you know, and and work sort of works works that way. 

 

One of the things that, though what if we did this this week? Was began to start educating the community around the pending vaccine. 

 

And we had a conversation. I believe it was Wednesday with Dr. Alan Lessie, who is an epidemiologist at the university and really an expert on on these issues of infectious disease. 

And and and so we this issue with the vaccine because of our history, we know that the data show it about, only about. Well, 43, 44 % of black people who have been polled so far, have said that they would be willing to to take the vaccine. 

 

And I understand those low numbers. There's a historical context. There's a rationale behind Dr. Michael Eric Dyson would say that black people are not skeptical of science, we're skeptical of scientist. And and so so we have to get over, I shouldn’t say that. I say this we have to enhance our understanding and knowledge around issues as it relates to research. We have to have more black folks involved in research. We have to engage in participatory research. And we have to engage more with institutions that have access to data and have conversation. 

 

So that we'll operate with a greater knowledge base around this vaccine. So that's what we're trying to do. The fact is that the FDA and the CDC have put the, you know, Pfizer, Moderna, and all the companies that are developing the vaccine through a rigorous four step process that would certainly maximize the probability that when the vaccine comes into the public that it will be safe. 

 

And in fact, I believe one of the lead scientists in the development of the vaccine was an African-American woman. 

 

Right. And so and so when the vaccine emerges, we have to the decisions that we make and whether or not we're going to take it have to be based on facts and knowledge. 

 

Right. And and we need to hear from, I know that Morehouse and is going to play a role in in in in in the investigation and disseminating information into community about the vaccine, so we we need to hear from black doctors, about this, you know, and it locally, you know, hearing for me from Dr. Vasquez and Dr. Underwood and people like that in community who I trust. 

 

And if they say, hey, this this will be something that'll be beneficial to our people and to our community, I will I will follow that leadership. 

 

But but we have to be very, this is a very delicate situation because and we cannot be dismissive of people when they they express their reservation and concern about that, about the vaccine. And we should listen to their concerns and answer any and all questions with the hope that that that if the vaccine is going to be beneficial for our people, that everyone in our community does take it. 

 

But we also have to be in, involved in the process of distribution, so what good would the vaccine be if it's if it if it's gone through all four phases of approval, but yet, it’s not available to people within our communities? 

 

So we have to continue to advocate and be at the table and say, OK, you know, we're high risk, We are already struggling with a lot of issues, we got a lot of our people who are working as frontline workers in these health care facilities, so we want to make sure that people within our community have the information about the vaccine and and also access to the vaccine when distribution begins. 

 

Schuyler Lawson: Those are those are very important issues, and I imagine that the task force and the clergy coalition are going to play a big role in trying to have a plan for Buffalo's black communities as far as like, you know, equitable distribution and also to make certain information campaign to build, to build trust and address the roots of the historic roots of the mistrust towards our scientists we have.  

 

Reverend George Nicholas: And what's one of the things that when the outcomes of our project is we've developed just piles of data now, I mean, we've made, you know, I think over a hundred thousand contacts with people and so on and so on. Each one of them is a data point. And so we're going to be able to, as one of the outcomes of our project, be able to really make some really strong programmatic and policy recommendations about how do we can better serve the African-American community based on that, based on the data that we're collecting.  

 

And and so we strongly believe that research, we'll give you data, data will inform policy and then policy will bring resources. And so we have to make sure that we we are very aggressive in those are four those phases. 

 

Because really what's happened Schuyler years is is our people have been measured and surveyed and queried and and but and then institutions have have gotten tremendous grant and funding opportunities to do that, but then once we compile the data then and identify these these these issues, there never seems to be a follow up of policy recommendations to address that. 

 

It’s one thing the survey of people  and say ‘Y'all got a lot of diabetes’,  

 

But then, OK, this next step is now here are the programmatic things that we're going to put in place to address those those conditions, but that has not happened at the level that we needed to happen. 

 

So that's one of the reasons why we you know, it's very important that we have this collaboration with the university and others around research. 

 

Research is critical. And we have this. One of my goals is to have research to no longer be a bad word in our community. Right. As we know and I understand. But but now. But we understand, though, that the importance of research and importance of research being done right and making sure we don't take the data from the research to weaponize our people, but take the data to to be a bridge, to getting resources, to change the condition of our people. 

 

And that can only happen when black leadership involved. I mean, and that's got to be real about that, we we need to insist that black leadership is involved and we have to make sure that black leadership is black leadership, meaning not just black people in leadership is not black leadership. There's a difference between there. And so we have to have black folks who are in positions of influence and leadership to be unapologetic advocates for the conditions of their people. 

 

Right. And not, you know, not get tied up in the semantics of whether you should say, defund the police or not, that's the absolutely wrong conversation to have. And it's an unhelpful it's unhelpful critique for people in leadership to to to critique that phrase without looking at, but without putting your energy around the issues or why people are saying that. And so and so we have to understand the nuances of of how can you be an advocate for black people? 

 

You, the only way you can do that is to listen to black people. Right. And to and to share their concerns in an unfiltered, unabridged way, so so that we can really begin to start getting up to move. 

 

You know, and there's a generation, your generation I have four sons and one daughter and and your generation is is very clear of the directness, you know. 

 

And so I and I am grateful to see the kind of the shift things like, you know, that the unwillingness to play semantical games and to appease white institutions, but to to say, listen, you know, there we we have a right to be in this space and we have a right to advocate for our people, and and we have a right to use the knowledge bases and the things that we've learned from these institutions to better the condition of our own people. And that is a critical, critical piece that I think we got, we have to see it in terms of shifting in our approach in our community. 

 

Schuyler Lawson: Very well put. And I'm actually leads to, I have a final question, is there is there anything else that you'd like to share with our listeners? Any kind of, you know, I know. I know you've said a lot and I'll put you on the spot. 

 

But anything else before you conclude our interview with you? 

 

Reverend George Nicholas: I just that, you know, I guess a message I'm sure a lot of students listen to this, the issue around race, I think this is our season to really engage in real, meaningful conversations about it. 

 

And I'd like to say, put it this way, to take the power of racism or to diminish the power of racism in our culture. While, as a theologian, I would I would be hopeful that we could eliminate racism, but also as a sociologist, I would degrees sociology as well, understanding that I think are our best hope is to be able to diminish the power of racism and the power of white supremacy and the ideology of white supremacy and its influence on institutions. 

 

To diminish that power that it has, I think is is is something that we could, which is a realistic goal. And I think it happens through, you know, people engaging in transparent and honest conversations about the history and the present practice of white supremacy and systemic racism and to engage in conversations that would define allyship in the terms that centers the needs of black people in that allyship work and to to and to be cautious in our conversations about intersectionality to the point where we I believe that we do that, but not at the expense of the needs of black people. 

 

And I think what has happened historically post, since I know we've run out of time, but post civil rights, I think that at times, our desire to do intersectional work and to to do coalition work has at times put the needs of black people secondary. Right, though. And so we have to be to be, you know, smart, cautious. Learn from our past practices and then to be innovative. 

 

I mean, do to to recognize that there has to be new approaches to things. I think folks of my generation have to make spaces for sunsetting some activities in organizations that may have been effective for a season. 

 

But, you know, there's a new opportunity as a new opportunity here. And I think we need to make room and spaces for the next level of leadership. But I also will caution the next level leadership to not discount the wisdom of the elders. Right. And so one of the things that that diminishes our strength, is when we have conversations like pushing the old folks, old guard out the way and, you know, this is our time. Right. I think we by doing such, you diminish the the opportunity to glean wisdom from folks that have been on the battlefield and and can maybe give some wise counsel on how to deal because the enemy is wise, and the enemy does not separate generation the enemy. 

 

The enemy passes down the wisdom of how to maintain power and control down to the next generation. And that's why there's been so much success tick to keep this generational dominance. And so so those are the things that the final things kind of I would like to to share with folks and then just inviting people to engage to log on to our Web site, BuffaloHealthEquity.org. And then when you see activities and things going on around campus, around community, around health that could be around justice, get engaged, you know. 

 

Don't wait for somebody else to do this. This is your season, your responsibility. And if you're your personal good conscious and there's so much happening right now, it's a great opportunity for you to get engaged and to begin to shape the society in a way which we want to be. And it's only going to happen if we get engaged.  

 

Schuyler Lawson: Thank you for those thoughtful parting remarks, and so thanks again for taking the time to to be interviewed on our podcast. We hope to have you on again to discuss future projects, for example. You know, no one wants the vaccine becomes available. You know how things are gonna go with the task force in the coalition. We're helping out with distribution in the information campaigns. We definitely want to follow up on that.  

 

And now you add add a question, is there a way for that? Our listeners can learn more about the task force and the coalition? 

 

Reverend George Nicholas: BuffaloHealthEquity.org, Health equity data, all the information. And if you want to send us any questions or anything like that, we will, we have a way to respond.  

 

Schuyler Lawson: And for our listeners, are there any volunteer opportunities? 

 

Reverend George Nicholas: I think so. I'm not sure right now, I know that we have some students doing some some some academic stuff, some you know, I think one thing, too, is, is checking with people like Dr. Heather or Dr. Grimsley, Dr. Taylor and Dr. Murphy and Dr. Leslie or your professors and Heather Abraham over at the law school. 

 

Reach out to them and say, hey, you know what you know, ask, are there some things that I can do, too, in terms of supporting your connection to the task force? 

 

And we're always open. We're looking for, you know, ideas, you know. I mean, well, you know, it's what I want. We want to be a place to support and convene new ideas. So, I mean, there is base maybe some things that I had a conversation with oh, oh, oh, young lady, they want to do some internship work. And I said to work, so that's great. So she said, well, what will we do? I said, I want you to tell me what you want to do. 

 

You know, you come up use out. I mean, I'm interested in your creative ideas, but I don't want you. I don't we don't need you. I just come run copies for us. Right. I want to I want to mine the intellect. 

 

Of young and young people in mind, their ideas. Do you mean as opposed to just giving up some task. 

 

Right. Right. Because I think that's where the power is. 

 

And so so I would just encourage people we will welcome ideas and thoughts. And, you know, let's let's let's see what can we come up with. 

 

Schuyler Lawson: OK. And again, listeners, that is our BuffaloHealthEquity.org, correct? 

 

Reverend George Nicholas: Yes. Buffalo Health Equity dot org. 

 

And also we got another Web site of a project we're working on called Pride in Place, Buffalo, Pride in Place, Buffalo. And it's a collaboration with Lisk and AARP where we're actually going to be doing some creative things that just about celebrating and loving our folks in our communities.  

 

It's going to be real artsy and just really is really just trying to lift get out, what's been a big deal with this trauma, right? And we got to learn how to celebrate ourselves, celebrate what's happening in our community that's good. Celebrate the artists, the people you know, we're working with folks with like from the Wakanda Alliance. 

 

And then, you know, there's some folks that are just doing some so great things on the ground and we need to support them and we need to resource them. 

 

And so you can and if you go to Buffalo Health Equity, talk there, I think there's a link to it but otherwise it’s called pride in place, Buffalo, Pride in place, Buffalo. And you'll see some exciting things and there'll be some some things we're looking for artist. We're looking for all kinds of folks in there. So that would be a place to kind of link into something. 

 

Schuyler Lawson: OK. Thank you very much. And again, I'm Schuyler Lawson. Thank you. Thank you all for listening to another episode of Buffalo Health Cast. Take care now.