HAMPTON, Va. (June 22, 2020) –Hampton University, along with Sentara Healthcare, Virginia Department of Health, the Urban League of Hampton Roads, Inc., Hampton Branch NAACP and the Virginia Peninsula Foodbank held a successful Juneteenth COVID-19 coronavirus Community Testing event on Friday, June 19. The event, titled “Your Health is Your Wealth,” was an event to honor Juneteenth, the day that marked the official end of slavery in the U.S. in 1865.
“Your Health is your Wealth” took place on the site of the historic Emancipation Oak. Over 200 community members utilized the free coronavirus drive-thru testing, walk-up testing and received free food boxes from the Virginia Peninsula Foodbank during this event. Many in the community still are not working and this distribution of food was so important.
“We started setting up at 8:00 and by 8:30, we already had over 40 cars that were congregating on the street to take advantage of the free COVID-19 testing,” said Dr. Ethlyn McQueen-Gibson, Associate Professor for the Hampton University School of Nursing, Director of the Center for Gerontology Excellence, and co-chair for Hampton’s COVID-19 Task Force. “Juneteenth is an important day for African Americans and certainly the faculty, staff and students of Hampton University. We are teaching our students that health inequity is another form of slavery and racism. We stand as an institution for our students and we arm our community with education and information from the testing results. The community trusts Hampton University and this increases their likelihood to come out for testing.”
Dr. Janice Underwood, the Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer to Governor Ralph Northam was on hand at the event representing Northam’s office. “As we celebrate and commemorate Juneteenth 2020 as finally, a paid state holiday in the Commonwealth of Virginia, only the second state behind Texas, we are hoping to lead the nation in a process of reconciliation,” said Dr. Underwood, also an HU alumna, class of 1998. “The Governor’s Office of Diversity, which I serve and lead, are so proud to partner with the Urban League, Sentara Healthcare and others, in support of this event. The Governor’s office offered masks and hand sanitizers to be distributed and the Urban League is doing that. We are just honored to link arms with so many other partners, because we know it’s not just one organization that will help the Commonwealth, but it’s going to be many residents coming together and building solidarity to fight this COVID-19 public health crisis.”
Sentara Healthcare donated the testing kits and staffing for the event, and will inform clients of their results. They also distributed information from the CDC on signs, symptoms and prevention measures about COVID-19. “Our partnership with Hampton University, with the foodbank, the NAACP, and others, to go out in the communities we serve and to provide free COVID-19 testing, is so important,” said Dana Beckton, Chief Diversity Officer at Sentara Healthcare. “Today is historic. We are sitting right now under the Emancipation Oak and we know that just because we were freed, there are still systemic issues within our community, as it relates to our health. It’s really incumbent upon us from a diversity and inclusion perspective, as well as a health equity perspective that we start to close those gaps, so we are doing work around how do we measure the distance, because we know that from the onset of COVID-19, Black and Brown communities were impacted higher than others. We want to make sure we’re getting testing done and people are getting informed about what to do to stay safe and also what they need to do if they are positive.”
There was also food distribution, offered by the Virginia Peninsula Foodbank. “It’s very important for us to make sure the community is healthy. Food is medicine to some people, so we want to make sure that everybody always has enough food,” said Karen L. Joyner, Chief Executive Officer of the Virginia Peninsula Foodbank. “Handing out food may also be an added incentive for community members to come and get tested for COVID, as sometimes people show up for food. If you feed them, they will come!” The Virginia Peninsula Foodbank has partnered with Hampton University to hold another drive-through mobile pantry coming up on June 25, 2020 in Lot 10 on campus.
There were also volunteers from the community who took time out of their day to help with this event, including Hampton University faculty, staff and students. “I’m out here helping out with this Juneteenth event, which is providing COVID testing, food and supplies. This is a great event for the community. There have been so many people that have come out and they are continuing to roll in. I’m happy to be part of this event and to give back,” said Kayla Lane-Illescas, Hampton University graduate student, who is working on her master’s degree in medical science.
Because of the success of this event, it is the hope of all who are involved that another community health event can take place soon.
“I want to thank President Harvey for continuing to show that Hampton University serves the community and helps address health disparities. Everyone who has come for COVID-19 testing and the food distribution has said they appreciate Hampton University’s collaboration with their community partners. They want to know when the next event is so they can share with additional community members who could not come out today,” said Dr. McQueen-Gibson.