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‘A model throughout the country:’ Massey’s Facts and Faith Fridays recognized with community award

Sep 13, 2022


The awards and recognitions ceremony agenda of the Richmond City Council meeting on September 12, 2022, began with an invitation by Rev. Michael Jones, D.Min., 9th district councilman.

“I want to ask my colleagues to join us,” Jones extended from his position at the front of the council chambers. “Those who had constituents and/or family members that were impacted by COVID.”

As all nine members of the City Council assembled, Jones acknowledged everyone felt the weight of the novel coronavirus pandemic beginning in March 2020. Because of it, Jones thanked VCU Massey Cancer Center and area faith leaders for asking and taking action on a question that positively changed the course of it.

“How can we get information out to the African American community? Let’s get with all of the local pastors in the city and meet every Friday,” Jones described how Massey’s Facts and Faith Fridays program came to be.

Jones presented Facts and Faith Fridays with the Richmond City Council Community Service Award and thanked its organizers, participants and supporters for their leadership roles “in helping make Richmond and Virginia an even better and healthier place to live, love, work, learn, play, visit and enjoy family.”

Facts and Faith Fridays began in March 2020 after Rudene Mercer Haynes, a Massey Advisory Board member and partner with the Hunton Andrews Kurth law firm, connected the Rev. F. Todd Gray of Fifth Street Baptist Church with Robert A. Winn, M.D., director and Lipman chair in Oncology at Massey.

The weekly conference calls initially addressed the disproportionate impact the novel coronavirus pandemic had on the Black community; the discussions have now evolved to include a range of social justice and health topics, including cancer.

“This act of what we did with COVID was not something that we just did with COVID,” explained Winn. “It was the first evidence of how strong Richmond is and how strong Richmond can lead.”

With the latest data each week and the insights of guest speakers, including First Lady Jill Biden, Ed.D., and Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the Zoom meetings allowed faith leaders to become ambassadors for dispelling myths and educating communities about the COVID vaccine, while also coordinating vaccination clinics on their own church grounds.

“As a local pastor, we got great information to share with our congregations,” remembered Jones, who founded Village of Faith Ministries in Midlothian and Sandston, Va. “[Faith leaders] actually got more information than we were getting on council, believe it or not, which was very promising.”

Jones added that he decided to bestow the city council honor upon Facts and Faith Fridays to show the faces of people behind the scenes who helped so many Black households get through the pandemic.

Cynthia I. Newbille, Ph.D., 7th district councilwoman, addressed Winn and Mercer Haynes as they accepted the award also on behalf of Gray, who was unable to attend the ceremony.
“We have too many still dying too early, too often from preventable and treatable health conditions, but you have made a difference,” Newbille told them. “And I just want to say thank you for that.”

Reva M. Trammell, 8th district councilwoman, expressed her appreciation for Facts and Faith Fridays and the founders in attendance.

“We educated the people, got the vaccine,” Trammell said. “You helped us, and you saved some lives. And I say from the bottom of my heart, thank you both.”

Jones explained relationships fostered by Facts and Faith Fridays continue well beyond the Zoom meetings, citing Winn’s participation in the “Nah I’m Good: Black Congregations and Vaccination Hesitancy” podcast his Village of Faith Ministries produced in August 2021.

Other organizations starting their own programs to arm faith leaders with health information to disseminate makes Facts and Faith Fridays “a model throughout the county,” according to Jones.

“The work of Facts and Faith Fridays is not yet done, as there are many challenges facing communities of color in achieving health and wealth equity,” stated Mercer Haynes after accepting the award. “We cannot afford to stop until the health and wellness of our community is not determined by race, socioeconomic status or a zip code.”

Winn said he will personally look to city leaders for direction on the future of Facts and Faith Fridays and new initiatives, saying he is inspired by the work done to partner with federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) and to improve education and parks to benefit the community.

“This is the best example of getting beyond allyship and getting into solidarity. My commitment is to continue to serve as best as I can because I see your service,” said Winn. “We are the new Richmond, and you are our new leaders. And I’m with you every step of the way.”

Read the full text of the award here.

Written by: Amy Lacey

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