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Battling low inner-city vaccination rates by taking 'confidence' on the road

"A community crusade to build up confidence in order to beat COVID," said Rev. K.P. Tatum Sr., of his wish to take a bus tour to low-vaccination ZIP codes.

FORT WORTH, Texas — A Fort Worth pastor, at the forefront helping his community and others battle through the pandemic last year, is now looking for backers for his next COVID-fighting idea: taking testing and vaccination and "community confidence" on the road.

Mt. Rose Baptist Church is in Fort Worth ZIP code 76104. The area has one of the lowest life expectancies in the state of Texas at just 67 years. It also has one of the lowest vaccination rates: just 13.46%, according to tracking information by Tarrant County.

"When you put those formulas together, that's a perfect storm," Mt. Rose pastor K.P. Tatum Sr. said. "It's a travesty, if you really think about it."

But Tatum also has an idea. On July 8, he helped organize a block party, complete with barbecue, a bounce house for children, a D.J., and the opportunity for both COVID testing and COVID vaccination.  He says of the 150 people who showed up as many as 50 either got COVID tests or vaccinations.

"That's the kind of energy people need coming out of isolated COVID," he said. "They don't really know what's going on but they know it's a bunch of joy and that joy builds up confidence," he said of communities often more concerned with the basics of financial and physical survival. Adding a new hurdle like COVID is often a less immediate concern. 

But the energy they were able to generate at the community block party is the kind of energy Tatum would also like to take on the road. He's looking for help to buy or lease a "John Madden-type bus," as he calls it. He wants to load it with COVID supplies, COVID vaccines, and travel to ZIP codes like his own across the state.

"We call it a crusade," Tatum said. "A community crusade to build up confidence in order to beat COVID. This is what pastoring is and this is what pastors do. Let's try to build confidence in the community ourselves, not as a favor to the government, let's do it to save our community."

Tatum doesn't have the sponsors yet. But he is asking for involvement from state and federal agencies and from any private donors who might want to join in this effort.

"When we are able to infuse confidence back into these isolated, under-vaccinated communities, then we will be doing the Lord's work," he said.

By the way, during our interview, you might have noticed the worker on the ladder behind Reverend Tatum in the sanctuary. He was applying finishing touches to the wall behind the pulpit. The sanctuary, with all of its pews still removed, has only bare concrete floors.

"A victim of the storm of February 2021," he said referring to the multiple broken pipes that damaged much of their building.

But as he and his congregation near piecing their own church back together, he's looking for help to piece ZIP codes like his own back together, and protect it as best he can from COVID too.

"The right people with the right heart doing the right thing," he said.