By: Masha V. Chernyak, Senior Vice President of Programs
Throughout the country, Latinos are facing many barriers to get the COVID-19 vaccine. We are here to share what works when you invest in and partner with the community.
Over the last three months, the Latino Community Foundation (LCF) has been on the frontlines of vaccination efforts. We’ve invested in grassroots nonprofit partners, created PSAs, developed a communications toolkit, and successfully advocated to the Governor’s office to ensure equitable access.
Across the state underfunded local nonprofits are stepping in to fill the gaps left by local governments—from internet access and basic tech tools to translation and door to door outreach. Philanthropy should mobilize resources to these existing organizations rather than creating something new to address equity issues with the vaccine.
We’ve been listening, learning, and adapting. We are also gaining clarity about what works. Here is what we’ve discovered so far:
1. Simple Messages and Trusted Messengers Work. We’ve developed a set of simple, culturally relevant content lifting up the facts about the vaccine. And who is helping spread the message? Trusted community members such as teachers, faith leaders, elders, promotoras, and doctors. With our partners, these have been translated into printed materials, digital materials, arts and cultural content, and door-to-door outreach efforts.
These types of grassroots communication campaigns resonate more strongly than top-down commercial approaches. LCF started the year with creating bilingual PSAs featuring our own staff to promote facts about the vaccine. We are now partnering with Youth Speaks to engage young poets in developing fresh, powerful spoken word videos to engage young Latinos as well as a music video with Las Cafeteras.
Our most shared social media posted featured Dolores Huerta, an American hero and labor rights organizer from the Central Valley, getting vaccinated. Photo below.
2. What You Fight, You Fuel. Early in 2021, we began to hear from our frontline partners about the growing and rapid spread of misinformation about the vaccines. While it was tempting to focus simply on dispelling the myths, we learned it was more important to highlight facts and lift up stories of real people.
At the same time, the news media – with its constant focus on vaccine hesitancy – has added too much fuel to the fire. LCF is showcasing the increasing acceptance and vaccination rates within Latino communities to inspire family members and neighbors to follow suit. Folks we’ve met at vaccination events just wanted more information, they wanted to talk directly to a nurse. Once their questions were answered, they were ready to be vaccinated. But the reporters, or the editors, amplified the hesitancy, rather than the actual challenges of getting vaccinated in rural California.
3. Meet People Where They Are. Bringing the vaccine to community is often easier than bringing people to vaccination sites. This strategy addresses a range of challenges from language access to transportation to the digital divide which are common in Latino communities.
Our grantee partners have organized pop-up events in communities that engage families around multiple needs and interests, not just the vaccine. For example, Raizes Collective recently hosted a Cesar Chavez celebration event where their Promotoras invited their neighbors to ask questions about the vaccine, and connected them to Spanish-speaking nurses who could provide even more information. There was art, music, and community connection. By the end of the event, 200 people were vaccinated, and everyone went home more informed.
4. Invest in Organizers and Promotoras (Community Health Workers). Many of our grassroots partners are using the power of Promotoras to get their community vaccinated. Investing in door-to-door and other word of mouth community education efforts is effective for Latino audiences. We invite philanthropy to mobilize their resources to grassroots organizations and their leaders because these trusted youth, parents, and community leaders as the most effective messengers.
5. Low Hanging Fruit First. There are hundreds of thousands of Latinos who are ready to get vaccinated but don’t know where or how. They might have attempted to get an appointment but got stuck on the site for weeks. They might drive by a large billboard in their community that says “Get Vaccinated” but with little other helpful information. We should start by focusing on Californians who want the vaccine but need help rather than focusing on hesitancy which only perpetuates the problem.
6. Use Existing Organizing Infrastructure to Reach the People. There are opportunities to use existing organizing infrastructures to reach the people. And like Voter Education and Outreach, this work takes multiple touches and various strategies.
At LCF, we tapped into the power of our community organizers, Promotoras, and youth leaders. We funded Mi Familia Vota, a civic engagement org who created a bilingual hotline for vaccine and COVID-19 questions. We engaged our Just Recovery Wildfire cohort, a group of 10 Latino-led organizations in California’s North Bay who have been organizing for change since the 2017 Wildfires, and imbedded vaccination work into our collective vision for recovery. We reached out to artists and arts collective organizations to help us reach the people. Our community is filled with trusted organizations who are hubs of hope and connection for Latinos; these anchors just need investment and support.
7. Address the Tech Barriers in Rural Communities. Not only to ensure vaccination, but to prepare and prevent future crisis in California, we must address the digital divide which is greatest in our state’s rural and farmworker communities. More than a third of Latino rural families don’t have internet access at home and most farmworkers lack an email address.
Navigating the myturn.ca.gov website to secure appointments has been very difficult. Until we truly invest in the technological future of all California regions, we risk leaving entire communities behind. We support the Digital Equity Bill of Rights. The time is now. https://www.internetforallnow.org/
8. There is No One Size Fits All Model. Like every community, California Latinos are not a monolith. What works in rural farmworker communities may not resonate in urban communities. What works with elders may not work with millennials. Public service announcements and marketing materials work when they are genuine and authentic. We are proud to partner with indigenous-led groups like like Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño (CBDIO), Movimiento Cultural de la Union Indigena (MCUI), and Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP) to focus specifically on indigenous agricultural communities. For East Contra Costa County, we’ve partnered with a youth-led group called One Day at A Time (ODAT) to do outreach and education, because they know their community! Segment your audience. Do local research and partner with trusted grassroots leaders.
We must do better. Together.
According to the latest data, only 24% of Latinos in California have received their first dose of the vaccine, but account for nearly 50% of all coronavirus deaths in the state.
We have a long way to go, but we know what works. At the end of the day, moving flexible resources to our grassroots organizations, those closest to the community, and focusing on simple messages with trusted messengers is the way to reach and protect the people.
Join our campaign! Learn more about our funded nonprofits and share our toolkit at: https://latinocf.org/covid-19-vaccine-outreach/