When Cheryl Owens saw the growing skepticism about the COVID-19 vaccines among African Americans in the city of Tuskegee, Ala., where she was born and raised, she decided to get involved. With a population of slightly over 11,000 residents, the city is the largest in Macon County, just 40 miles east of Montgomery, where Owens now works as a registered nurse at Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS).
Owens has always been proud of Tuskegee’s rich heritage. The city has played an important role in African-American history since the 19th century. Tuskegee Normal School (now Tuskegee University, a historically black college) was founded by Lewis Adams, a former slave. Its first founding principal was Booker T. Washington. Today, Tuskegee ranks fifth among cities with the highest percentage of college graduates in Alabama.
Moreover, Tuskegee and Tuskegee Institute were home to the famed Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. This was the first squadron of African-American pilots trained in the U.S. military for service in that war.
When CAVHCS kicked off efforts to vaccinate staff and the veterans they serve throughout the region, including Tuskegee, Owens knew she had an opportunity to lead by example. Owen wrote in a Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System blog article, “With the recent news of emergency authorization for two COVID-19 vaccines, I’ve thought a lot about the weight of history and the skepticism and distrust for the health care industry that lingers in the African-American community.”
After getting vaccinated, Owens made it her personal mission to educate veterans and all Tuskegee residents about the vaccine’s benefits and safety. The CAVHCS website offers a wealth of education about COVID-19 and the vaccines, and it makes it easy for people to sign up to get their shots.
Owens added, “After being vaccinated, I will continue to wear a mask, wash and sanitize my hands frequently, and keep appropriate distance as recommended by the CDC. I urge veterans and everyone in my hometown to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccines to make an informed decision about being vaccinated against the coronavirus.”