Mississippi natives play pivotal role in COVID vaccination campaign

By David Miller

April 21, 2021

MSW student Kyesha Davis (left) and School of Social Work alumna Nekkita Beans have worked together this spring at the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative, where Davis is completing a field placement and Beans is her supervisor.

With just 12 hours until the launch of their community vaccination drive, Kyesha Davis and Nekkita Beans were dealt bad news.

The pair, responsible for the marketing and promotion of the “Don’t Miss Your Shot” vaccine drive for Ward 8 in Washington, D.C., had to improvise after learning their original designs and productions for T-shirts had fallen through.

But, with a heat press, a Cricut, and a bit of imagination, the pair burned the midnight oil and made roughly 35 promotional T-shirts and batches of facemasks for the morning’s event.

“We were able to brand ourselves, and also the event,” said Davis, a MSW student at the University of Alabama School of Social Work and intern at the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative in D.C. “We now have people reaching out to us who want to buy the masks and shirts.”

The coordinated vaccination drive was a critical project for the collaborative; Ward 8 is one of D.C.’s most underserved areas and has among the lowest vaccination rates the city, according to the Washington Post.

The goal of the April 3 event was to vaccinate 1,000 people. The Collaborative leveraged connections with area universities and faith-based organizations to help promote the event. These efforts were spearheaded by both Davis and Beans, special projects coordinator for the Collaborative and Davis’ supervisor. The pair organized education sessions and went door-to-door to promote the event, in addition to crafting shirts and masks.

“I had blisters on my feet … making sure everyone in the ward knew about what we were doing,” Davis said. “We wanted to meet the clients where they are and address any barriers they might have; we partnered with Uber, had child-care on scene, food services, wrap-around health services.”

A D.C. Program and Mississippi connection

Uniquely, the pair share multiple connections beyond the Washington, D.C. Internship program, of which Beans fulfilled a placement with the Collaborative in the spring of 2019 before being hired there full-time.

Beans and Davis are Mississippi natives, and each received their undergraduate degrees at the University of Mississippi.

Beans said these connections make mentoring Davis a point of pride but, more important, as black women, she would be “doing a disservice” to Davis and the field of social work if she didn’t fully embrace her role in Davis’ internship.

“It’s another opportunity for me to learn – what it means to be a mentor and a supervisor at a young age,” Beans said. “Having [Davis] here and challenging and pushing her the same way I was when I was in her position – going into communities, whether it’s with the mayor, or with a family that’s lost a child to gun violence – has been the gift of a lifetime to watch her grow into it.

“A month ago, the vaccine event wasn’t even a topic of conversation,” Beans added. “We exceeded expectations, and for us to do that at (ages) 25 and 22 … it’s unreal.”

After initial apprehension of doing a D.C. placement, Davis said she “wanted to step out of her comfort zone,” even if it meant operating with some ambiguity or uncertainty. But she says her experience has been fruitful, and she hopes to stay in D.C. and with the Collaborative, where she’s been able to “see a lot of hard work put into place.”

“It’s been a great experience,” Davis said. “I’ve done case management, community engagement, putting on events, creating flyers … even though we’re in a pandemic, we’re still trying to provide services.”

And with the “gig economy” ever-growing and diversifying, Davis has eyed a potential side-job.

“I actually have friends who want me to make graduation shirts for them,” Davis said. “That should be fun.”