Though Made to Save and its coalition partners have always prioritized vaccine outreach in communities of color, Black History Month provides an organizing opportunity to celebrate progress and engage in discussions about how to continue to close equity gaps in Black communities. Throughout this month, we’ve discussed how we can take action, together, to beat this pandemic and shine a spotlight on the work Black-led organizations are already doing.
Made to Save interviewed Nicole Dixon, President of Real Women Radio Foundation, to learn more about her organization’s vaccine outreach to Black communities in Pensacola, FL. In 2016, the Real Women Radio (now RWR Live 365) station was founded to amplify voices in the community and engage in conversations on topics ranging from careers to health and lifestyle to fashion. Two years later, Real Women Radio Foundation, a nonprofit organization, was founded to unify the organizing work that Dixon and other radio hosts had already been doing in the community. The nonprofit partners with other organizations and businesses in northwest Florida to reach the predominantly Black communities in this area. On the border of Alabama, Pensacola is more demographically and culturally similar to Southern states than it is to Central or South Florida.
Real Women Radio Foundation builds community by amplifying the voices of trusted messengers.
The radio station remains a cornerstone to Real Women Radio Foundation’s community outreach. In addition to an array of music genres that air through the RWR 365 (which is also available to stream online), the station hosts a variety of talk shows that are designed to showcase voices in the Black community and engage in conversations about issues such as COVID-19.
“We play music 365 days a year and it also gives us the opportunity to reach the kind of people who are in[to] gospel all the way to rap and everything in-between… [The radio station and the foundation] really went hand-in-hand… we want to hear why you believe what you believe.”
The nonprofit foundation brings this same spirit of conversation-building to offline spaces. As a women-led radio station focused on reaching all members of the Black community, they recognize the importance in using influencers that also appeal to men. One event, the Black Beauty Expo, incorporates a Men’s Speak Panel which showcases conversations between community influencers.
“We get to ask the questions and they get to have a conversation. And sometimes we’ll say ‘hey we want to talk about COVID or talk about hair weaves or whatever… it’s just during that time we let Black men speak to us and we ask questions that we want to know.”
“Resources reimagined” allows outreach efforts to meet people where they are.
A large part of Real Women Radio Foundation’s COVID-19 prevention outreach includes embedding COVID-19 related information in resources already desired by the community, a strategy which Dixon names “resources reimagined”:
“With resources reimagined, the concept is [to] reimagine how you impact and speak to and give resources to your community. How do you [this to] make things helpful? You can’t come at our community with vaccines, voting, things of that nature; you have to come at the community with a resource that they need.”
Dixon highlights the Black Business Directory that Real Women Radio Foundation developed as an example. Black community members want to support Black-owned businesses, so Real Women Radio Foundation aggregated a directory of businesses in the area, which then included educational information about COVID-19 in the publication.
“People want to support those businesses, they want to support Black people, and so how do you help them to do that? Give them a directory… and you add COVID information, vaccination information. You add education into it because nobody is going to pick up a COVID vaccination pamphlet; it’s just not gonna happen. You give them something they need and you put some other stuff in there.”
Discussions about COVID-19 require many follow-up conversations and consistent outreach. When providing resources such as boxed lunches, Real Women Radio Foundation includes perforated commitment cards in addition to informational materials. The cards provide the opportunity (but not the requirement) to share cell phone numbers and email addresses, which can be torn away and retained by Real Women Radio Foundation for follow-up outreach, while the community members can retain the “commitment” card to get vaccinated. This tactic is similar to tactics used in voter outreach.
“[I tell them] you can carry this around and the idea is that you have a card that reminds you to get vaccinated. There’s reciprocity there….we capture your information and that way we get to follow up via email and text message.”
Dixon also acknowledges that “resources reimagined” does not always require handing a physical product, but just providing the space for the community to do their work, which in turn builds reciprocity and trust.
“[We have] a 1200 sq ft room… we let business owners like photographers, poets, book authors use the room and we don’t charge them… They’ll have a portrait show, to launch this, or to take pictures. We do small sponsorships, we’ll even offer marketing services for other non-profits so they can have a good marketing base. That helps to facilitate and helps to have a relationship that has reciprocity. Because whether you’re talking about political power or anything we’ve got to have more reciprocity in our community and it can’t be what I think someone needs, it has to be what they need.”
Vaccine organizing can benefit from organizers identifying their own target audiences for outreach.
Real Women Radio Foundation was established to extend and recognize the work already being done to outreach to Black communities and the success is driven in part by letting others continue that work with additional support.
“One of our board members was doing Back to School drives and she had been doing them for years. A lot of times those who are not large ball players; they do not have the capacity to get the press but they do wonderful, impactful work. That is the heart of who we are. We are here for the small person that does the work in this community and we want to amplify it through this organization.”
Dixon discusses that it is important to let organizers do outreach to the communities that they see are in great need. For example, one of Real Women Radio Foundation’s organizers has made focused efforts to target unhoused members of the population and Dixon emphasized the importance of letting each organizer pursue those efforts.
“If that’s her passion, I let her work in her passion. I just want to be the vehicle for everyone; to be along for the ride and [let them] drive to their destination.”
Real Women Radio Foundation has touched many Black communities in Northwest Florida, but recognizes more outreach is needed to continue to close the vaccine gap.
Real Women Radio Foundation recognizes that being a presence in the community and building trust over time is important, but also makes concerted efforts to try to reach others in Black communities they may be missing in their outreach.
“We’re working on a project [to identify] where the Black people in North Westwater because there are times where I feel like we’re hitting the same people over and over again… [It really] take[s] some time to get to know the people in the area… to know every Black person here, where are they, who are they, and how do I talk to them.”
Dixon finds that one way to reach the remaining unvaccinated population is actually to scale back on using the word “vaccine” which has become politicized and use “COVID protection” to start conversations.
“It seems as though prior to COVID you had an undertone [of a] non-vaccination movement going on in America. It wasn’t going on with people of color so that’s why I don’t understand why this happened… It’s that messaging. We’re not scared to say the word ‘vaccine’ but let’s just have a COVID conversation. Let’s talk about your health [and] how if you get the shot it reduces the effects [of COVID] and reduces your likelihood of being hospitalized.”