“In Sickness and in Health”: How the Black Church is Reinforcing Public Health
by Courtney Hooks (CMC ‘23)
When it comes to people of faith, healthcare providers, churches, and individuals have to work collaboratively to provide holistic care to the individual.
The Black church has been a trusted source of community engagement for the Black community, a group whose health has been marginalized for generations. Prioritizing collaboration is essential to addressing the consequences of COVID-19. Through a 2-hour interview with two community leaders, I explored how Christ has worked through these individuals in their faith-based public health organizations to uplift Black Los Angeles residents in a systematic struggle for health equity.
Dr. Bochi McKinney, DrPH, is an Associate Professor of Public Health at California Baptist University and the Public Health Advisor for the Shared Harvest Fund. As an epidemiologist, she has dedicated her career to raising awareness about the social aspects of health worldwide, focusing on women’s health disparities, religion and health, and food insecurity. She advises for MyCovidMD, an emergency response initiative to declining trust in the medical system and the growing public health crisis facing low-income minority communities. MyCovidMD provides free pop-up community-based testing and vaccines across Los Angeles.
Chris Baccus is the Executive Director for Concerned Citizens Community Involvement (CCCI, est. 1978), a non-profit organization that promotes health, education, and well-being in South Los Angeles and neighboring communities. CCCI partnered with Kaiser Permanente in 2014 as part of the Faith-Based Partnership Program, which educates the community through health lectures and coaching. Chris has spearheaded these efforts since 2004. During the coronavirus pandemic, Chris partnered with MyCovidMD to provide free COVID-19 vaccinations to South LA residents.
Courtney: How has passion fueled your desire to help others in your field?
Dr. Bochi: My mother is from West Africa, and I came here when I was 12 years old. I saw how many people struggled medically because of limited healthcare access there. I wanted to be helpful not just to my community in West Africa, but to all nations. I was thinking of what passions developed in me by combining my Christian background and my upbringing.
Chris: I would go further than passion and look at compassion. I first recall the lessons from my grandfather Jasper Baccus, who was white-passing. He used that to his advantage to bring goods to the community in South Dallas. My father had the same entrepreneurial spirit. I witnessed the struggles we had financially, but he sacrificed the money to be a minister because of his compassion for others. My mom did the same thing, even without a college education. It’s more about understanding Jesus’s mission to serve.
Courtney: Do you see similarities between communities in West Africa and in Los Angeles?
Dr. Bochi: The struggles I saw in West Africa as a young child — I was seeing them here too. When we think of the parallels between different nations, we can easily isolate the poorest people. If you are rich, you have the money for healthcare. If you’re not rich, you don’t have that money.
Courtney: Chris, why was CCCI started?
Chris: CCCI was started in 1978 by my father, Dr. Carl C. Baccus, to address LA’s social concerns amid the Watts Riots, hyperinflation, gas shortages, white flight, and busing in the education system. Our community was left to fend for itself, and that’s why organizations like ours are important to fill the gap between the government and the people.
Courtney: Dr. Bochi, the Black church is known for having potluck celebrations with fried Southern foods. How does that curtail your effe
Dr. Bochi: I grew up in a Black church in America where people have high blood pressure and diabetes. The Black churches are bringing food that will clog their arteries and don’t see the problems in their behavior.
Courtney: From my own experiences growing up at the Southside Church of Christ, we started serving grilled chicken instead of fried chicken. It’s interesting how you noticed that the Black church is perpetuating these narratives while also redefining them.
Chris: Our minister, Dr. Baccus, started implementing these changes at the Southside Church of Christ for funerals and other events. We had to ask ourselves, “Why are we contributing to people’s chronic conditions and teaching healthy living at the same time?” The switch was extremely well received.
Courtney: Moving onto other public-health issues, there’s a general distrust of the COVID-19 vaccine within the Black community. Have you spoken with community members who have expressed concerns?
Chris: We heard about the hesitancy in the Southside congregation. It’s not uncommon, unfortunately, that there is this mistrust, especially of something governmental.
Dr. Bochi: As an epidemiologist, I tell people all the time that it’s okay to have reservations. Even I had reservations initially. We’ve been studying different strains as scientists for over 15 years in preparation for an outbreak. When the outbreak happened, we had the information to create a vaccine quickly. Having this knowledge as an epidemiologist allows me to reason with people when they have reservations.
Courtney: How do you approach those who recall the Tuskegee Syphilis Study?
Dr. Bochi: I tell them that this should never have happened, but because of this particular incident, there have been a lot of laws and regulations put in place to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself. As a professor, I expose my students to these studies so they are aware of there impact on minority communities. The second thing I would tell them is that I’m going to take the vaccine myself. I’m a Black woman. I share this because everyone is getting the vaccine, and it is not targeted at one minority group.
Courtney: Can you talk about how partnering with MyCovidMD helped expand CCCI’s pandemic efforts?
Chris: That partnership came from the LA County Supervisor’s office. They contacted us to potentially be a vaccination and testing site for Sharved Harvest and their MyCovidMD initiative. We were ready to help in any way we could.
Courtney: Large vaccination sites can produce a lot of anxiety, especially for those who are getting the vaccine for the first time. Shared Harvest pop-up events were all very fun and high-energy, like a block party. Did the church contribute to this environment, and is it something that Shared Harvest makes sure to incorporate?
Dr. Bochi: If we hadn’t started with the Black churches, many people would not have gotten vaccinated. As a Christian woman, if I see my pastor getting vaccinated, I’m going to get mine too. Of course, we provide music, a DJ, and a fun environment.
Dr. Bochi: A big factor that prevents minority Black and brown communities from getting vaccinated is access. The second would be misinformation. People can come to these testing sites and see their friends and family getting vaccinated. This was the biggest turnaround for the Black community.
Courtney: Chris, can you talk about the building trust aspect of CCCI’s work during the pandemic?
Chris: The trust comes first, then the allocation of resources next. Before the pandemic, we had chronic conditions workshops and healthy cooking demonstrations with Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, so we were already in the mode of serving the mind, body, and soul. These things are just part of CCCI’s DNA already.
Courtney: Dr. Bochi, I pulled a quote from your paper “Determinants of Antiretroviral Therapy Adherence among Women in Southern Malawi: Healthcare Providers’ Perspectives” that I found interesting: “there’s a need for a collaborative effort between healthcare providers, patients, and faith-based organizations to identify and address hindrances and facilitators to patients adherence.” Can you unpack that?
Dr. Bochi: When it comes to people of faith, healthcare providers, churches, and individuals have to work collaboratively to provide holistic care to the individual.
Courtney: Do you see that holistic approach being used in the US?
Dr. Bochi: Unfortunately, we’re becoming a nation that is trying to remove God from everything, but it depends on what hospitals and clinics you go to. We can’t go to any county hospital and expect holistic care.
Courtney: How do you see the Black church network in Los Angeles continuing to promote social change even after the pandemic?
Dr. Bochi: When I came to LA over a decade ago as an MPH student, I interned with the LA County of Public Health. I was asked to develop a curriculum to train Black churches on healthy eating. During that time, many churches were reluctant. Now more churches are open to addressing social issues. I see the difference between when I was a student versus now; churches are willing to let us in.
Dr. Bochi: I’m really proud of the Black churches for standing up and saying, “Okay, we’re going to do our part. There’s no limit to what we can do with our God. We pray for our spiritual health now we need also to prioritize our physical health.”
Courtney: Thank you both so much for your time.