Ken Coleman: Taking the COVID-19 vaccine was an easy decision for me

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When my wife, Kim Trent, and I learned last week that our physician had the COVID-19 vaccine available, we jumped at the opportunity to schedule an appointment and to take it. 

Ken Coleman getting the COVID-19 vaccine | Kim Trent

There appears to be little difference between white and Black Americans on whether they’ll take the coronavirus vaccine. A new national NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, for instance, found that 73% of Black people and 70% of white people say they plan to get the vaccine or have done so already. 

However, I continue to hear that Black Detroiters, including some who are friends and acquaintances, are reluctant to take the vaccine. 

I get it — to an extent. Some point out the U.S. government’s nefarious actions against our people when it comes to health care. The notorious Tuskegee Experiment comes to mind. The secret experiment conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service began in the 1930s to study deadly venereal disease in African Americans without treatment and had long-term harmful effects on people’s health. 

Others have little faith in the government overall, thanks to efforts to silence Black leaders like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X through the Counter-Intelligence Program, better known as COINTELPRO, led by former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. The goal was to disrupt and shut down the civil rights and Black power movements. 

I’ve dedicated my life to researching and writing about Black life in America, in general, and Detroit, in particular. I know that history well. So I’m very sensitive to the concern. 

Ken Coleman vaccination card

But I also know far too many people, at least 30, who have either survived or died from the virus. 

That includes people like Marlowe Stoudamire, the talented city booster who helped to lead the Detroit Historical Society’s “Detroit ‘67” effort to remember the 1967 civil uprising that rocked Detroit and the nation. I, along many others, worked with Stoudamire to help carry out the community campaign. He was only 43 when he died in March 2020 and is survived by a wife and two young children. 

Robert Harris, one of my family members, is a 51-year-old African-American man and father of two. He laid for several days in a Detroit hospital last spring battling the virus. During that period, he endured “the angel of death each night,” but he did beat COVID-19. 

I’m 53 and was recently diagnosed with hypertension. I now take a blood pressure pill every morning. What’s more, I’ve endured a bout with depression during this pandemic. Seeing the pain, death, periodic in-person school shutdowns and closed businesses that so many of us have lived through has taken an emotional toll on me.

It’s been a rough 12 months. 

The COVID-19 crisis has rocked Detroit and my life. But it’s also inspired me. 

On the upside, I have a beautiful and talented wife and a wonderful 12-year-old son, both whom I love to pieces. I want to be around for a while longer. So for me, taking the vaccine is about the desire to live, be surrounded by family and continue to chronicle the history of my people. 

I profoundly respect others who choose not to do so. But taking the COVID-19 vaccination was an easy decision for me.  

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.