As COVID-19 continues to impact society, Black Alabamians continue to bear an outsized burden from the virus.
According to the latest data from the Alabama Department of Public Health show that 38.4 percent of all coronavirus-related deaths are from the Black community. That's slightly down from the 39.6 percent from September 16.
However, U.S. Census data shows African-Americans only represent 26.8 percent of the population.
Tiffany Jordan-Whitlow, a co-founder of Huntsville-based Acclinate Genetics, said an important part of getting through the pandemic and helping to improve the quality of health care for African-Americans is to help build trust.
"There's so much mixed messaging. People don't understand if this is politically driven, if the subject matter experts are really providing the information and so they're searching for a place to go find that information. And if we're being really honest, the industry has never been incentivized to have to do this and specifically for African-Americans," Jordan-Whitlow said.
She and her business partner, Del Smith launched the #NowIncluded initiative to help connect the Black community with quality information about the health care industry.
They're working with people like Alabama Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mary McIntyre to help in the endeavor.
"She understands that there has to be a separation between what looks like the state health department, what looks like a UAB or a Huntsville Hospital and just looks like it represents the people. So, if their information lives on our Now Included platform, she sees the value because every time you want to know, you're going to know that that's your trusted place to go access that information," Jordan-Whitlow said.
Jordan-Whitlow and Smith created the company last year and said they are proud that the kind of work they're doing is being built up and supported in Alabama by groups like Bronze Valley, a venture capital firm based in Birmingham.
"This is an opportunity for Alabama to build a company from within who are minorities and who have minority vendors and really prove that Alabama is doing its part to support people like us," Jordan-Whitlow said.
Creating that trust is something that is needed now and in the not too distant future. State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris told WAAY 31 that, given the numbers in the state, being able to vaccinate African-American against COVID-19 will be paramount when it is ready. He said there are some important steps to reaching that point.
"We are working with different groups of faith within the Black community with different Black legislators and legislative delegations, with the Conference of Black Mayors, for example. There are specific groups like that, who are trusted voices in those communities, that we are working with to make sure they understand what we are doing because they'll do a much better and more effective job of communicating that than we can," Harris said.
Jordan-Whitlow said she and Smith decided to start the company because they wanted to become more empowered with medical knowledge to help their own families and recognized that their situation was not unique.
"So, for us, this is personal. And I feel like what the industry has been missing are people. So, we're building a business based on people and we happen to look like the people that we're trying to support," she said.
She said a fear around previous medical episodes, like what happened with the Tuskegee experiments, are used as an excuse to shy away from participating in the medical process. But she hopes that the work they're doing can help pull people away from that line of thinking.
"As we're sitting here, kind of blaming Tuskegee for a lot of the mistrust, you can actually use the Tuskegee example to show how the industry is already propelling itself forward," Jordan-Whitlow said. "So, we as the people can no longer sit around and say 'But I'm afraid. I'm scared.' We really have to take control of what is happening and make these decisions, not only for ourselves, but for our families."
The goal of the #NowIncluded campaign is to help empower minority communities in a way that will go far beyond the current era of COVID-19.
"We, as African-Americans, need to take control of our health and of our data and we can no longer say 'Woe is me, I wasn't included.' You are now included. And as we build out this community, we want to have partners like Dr. Scott Harris and Dr. Mary McIntyre, along with Dr. Fouad at UAB and Dr. Vickers. So, as we start to expand, we are going to be relying on those subject matter experts," Jordan-Whitlow said.