Methods: 18 Black-led organizations, including a neighborhood association (n=1), 501(c)(3) social service agencies (n=8), a small business (n=1), and faith organizations (n=8) were recruited through networks of public health advocates through emails and direct invitation. The grassroots network convened eight meetings discussing a range of topics: the science of COVID-19, vaccines, mindfulness, black liberation, community change skills, community agenda setting, and network capacity building. All meetings were video recorded and transcribed. An analytic team coded all transcripts, data were organized in Microsoft Excel, and a thematic analysis was conducted in accordance with procedures identified by Braun and Clarke (2006, 2012).
Findings: Preliminary findings highlight healthy cultural suspicion around mainstream public health efforts among the grassroots network but an interest in learning about COVID-19 and actions to reduce disease transmission despite early gaps in knowledge and changing/conflicting public health messaging. The grassroots network increased its understanding of opportunities to collaborate among participating organizations, although organizational infrastructure and resource needs (financial resources, staff capacity, volunteer management, use of social media to enrich outreach efforts, service participation barriers of black families) were identified as limitations requiring additional support. The grassroots network developed a community change agenda identifying policy recommendations for local systems change, underscoring the need to address structural racism and working toward black liberation and equity.
Implications: Findings highlight the importance of Black-led and Black-owned spaces for liberation work aimed at improving health and social conditions. The grassroots network provided space for learning, collaboration, skill building, and future advocacy. Macro practice social workers and persons engaged in public health planning could benefit by adapting equity models that support and empower vulnerable and systematically marginalized populations by ensuring in-group space is available for problem-solving, addressing resource needs, and policy development that advances liberation and equity.