When the COVID-19 pandemic forced so many into isolation, Charles Williams II (M.S.W., ’19) set out to make sure they stayed connected to the resources they needed. As the pastor at Historic King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit and a civil rights activist, Williams already had a long history of reaching out to his community and connecting them with important resources through programs like job fairs and rent assistance. And as a master’s alumnus of the U-M School of Social Work (SSW), and current SSW and sociology Ph.D. candidate, he knew all too well the higher risks COVID-19 posed to many of the vulnerable, primarily Black communities in his city.
Williams’s research focuses on finding ways to use Black churches to increase health equity and social safety net access for the often underserved Black communities of Detroit, including addressing vaccine hesitancy and food insecurity. To that end, he mobilized the resources of his own church to help distribute the COVID-19 vaccines once they were available, and serves as co-investigator for Community-Centered Interventions for Improved Vaccine Uptake for COVID, a National Institutes of Health-backed grant. His work has also been instrumental in forming a consortium of over 30 churches in Detroit focused on connecting communities with vaccinations, COVID-19 tests, mental health treatments, and other basic needs.
“When folks are already immobilized in so many ways before the pandemic, my concern was how they would fare with immunocompromised seniors in a household, limited transportation, overcrowded housing, and tight finances,” Williams says.