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Black history and the COVID vaccine: Dr. Marcelle Davis urges listening, learning, taking action

“Listen to one another so we can learn from one another, then act together,” Davis says in video.

Dr. Marcelle Davis Dr. Marcelle Davis, VCU Health director of diversity, equity and inclusion, (Photo: Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

When it comes to talking about Black history and medical care, Dr. Marcelle Davis, VCU Health director of diversity, equity and inclusion, has one major piece of advice: “Educate. Educate. Educate … And once you’re done educating, communicate.

“Black history is no longer something that we're ashamed to talk about, or that we talk about behind closed doors. We celebrate it, we acknowledge it and we embrace everyone who wants to learn about it.”

History as context, way forward

Mistrust in health care among Black communities didn’t happen overnight, Davis emphasizes. Mistrust dates back more than 400 years, encompassing slavery, the Tuskegee experiment and the Jim Crow laws. It can’t be undone quickly through the work of a small group of people.

We must work with each other to move forward, she says.

“If each of us takes the time to go and educate ourselves and come to the table enlightened and ready to have an informed discussion … then we demonstrate we're ready to work.”



Overcoming her own mistrust

Like many people, Davis was nervous about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. She wasn’t worried about side effects, but she was the first in her family to get the vaccine, and she has an underlying inflammatory disease called lupus. Anything her body sees as a stressor can cause flare-ups.

But Davis did her research. She educated herself. And she wants to lead others in doing the same.

“I always teach my daughter to lead by example,” Davis says. “Leadership is not a title, it's a behavior. I can't teach her those values if I don't live them myself.”

In her video, Davis explores Black History Month and her decision to get vaccinated despite her initial fears.