Since local coronavirus infections were first detected in spring 2020, Sonoma County’s Latinx community has been disproportionately affected. Comprising roughly 30% of our population, Latinx people were hit with more than 60% of Covid infections over the last year.
Although several local organizations worked to offer education and vaccines to this marginalized population, many continued falling through the cracks. In response, a collaborative venture established the first in what grew into a series of outreach and education events in February 2021: the Novel Artist Health Equity COVID Campaign.
Among collaborators was Santa Rosa based nonprofit, Raizes Collective.
“It was an obvious inequity, in terms of access to vaccines,” says Raizes Collective founder and Executive Director, Isabel Lopez. “I saw that there wasn’t enough messaging focusing on the communities who have been historically disenfranchised; people who don’t speak English. People who can’t even read and write.”
Earlier in the year, Lopez had coordinated essential worker vaccination clinics in West County. In the process, she connected with numerous essential workers that didn’t speak English, and didn’t have access to health care. Between the gaps in access and Lopez’s experience witnessing the power of art and cultural work to engage disenfranchised communities, she began organizing artists to help get information—and vaccines—into the Latinx community.
The resulting project, Novel Artist Health Equity COVID Campaign—which Community Foundation Sonoma County recently supported with grant funds—is the exact type of community building work you’d expect to see Raizes Collective doing in the community. Lopez founded the collective in 2015 with the mission to “empower and mobilize community through the arts, culture, and environmental education.” She says at the heart of the collective is the commitment to draw these facets together to offer artists and teachers of color the resources of space, programming, events, shows, and activities to affect social change through community building.
For the COVID Campaign, Lopez brought together nine local artists, four of whom live in the 95407 zip code in Roseland, which at the time represented the Santa Rosa area’s highest number of active COVID cases. The artists developed art and messaging to engage the community and to demystify the vaccine for those who didn’t otherwise have access to education about it or didn’t have access to the vaccine itself.
“We started in February on Valentine’s Day, holding an action of love,” says Lopez.
That first event in Roseland was a success and included music, healthcare workers offering resources and referrals to health services, free art prints, and more. From there, Lopez and others began organizing a series of community-based pop-up vaccine clinics, and between 100 to just over 200 people were vaccinated at each event. Both Sutter Health and Kaiser have participated and administered vaccines.
Each event was organized through collaborative efforts that created a strong sense of community. One, in particular, was especially meaningful to Lopez.
“There were about 30 nations from different indigenous tribes in groups that came together to just share dance and song and drumming. Leaders from the Lakota nation flew out to participate and share,” says Lopez. “It was medicine in a different kind of way; through sharing culture and coming together.”
The event inspired local indigenous folks to continue the outreach with their own families and friends.
“For me, it was also a way of bringing in trusted messengers, so that they could lead, to empower people in reaching out to their own communities about how to stay safe, especially for indigenous communities,” says Lopez. “Because it’s about survival and our future generations.”
The event series continues to have ripple effects, with collaborators continuing to plan events as well as create art, videos, and more to bring awareness to the importance of vaccines. Lopez says that local youth have also been involved with creating art and messaging on buttons and stickers and have even learned how to silkscreen shirts for the program.
“They’ve created t-shirts with the word pontelo, which in Spanish means ‘put it on.’ And that can mean either put on the vaccine or put on your mask, whatever you want it to mean,” says Lopez. “It’s up to people’s interpretation.”
As Sonoma County and the rest of California begin opening up, there’s a misconception that the pandemic is over. Yet Lopez sees the importance of continuing the events and continuing to support the Latinx community in getting vaccinated. There are several Novel Artist Health Equity COVID Campaign events planned throughout the summer, and Lopez hopes to secure additional grant funds to ensure those working behind the scenes to make these events happen can get compensated for their time.
“It wasn’t me coming up with a strategy and then bringing it down to the bottom. All of what we do comes from the bottom, and it goes to the top,” says Lopez. “It’s bottom up, which is such a shift from the traditional organizing models that you experience institutionally. And that’s the beautiful thing about this, it comes from the community, and it was brought about collectively.”
Story by Dani Burlison, photos and video courtesy, Raizes Collective.