Vaccines bring hope and healing to parishioners at Colorado’s oldest Black church

Older folks were excited to come to Shorter Community AME Church in Denver on Sunday to get their COVID-19 vaccines. Many parishioners have deeply missed seeing one another, worshiping together and singing in choirs.
Feb. 8, 2021
Ruby Carter received her vaccine at Colorado's oldest Black church, Shorter AME.
Ruby Carter got gussied up to receive her vaccine Sunday at Colorado’s oldest Black church, Shorter Community AME in Denver. Carter, 79, attends a nearby church and was excited to receive an invitation to get her vaccine. She wore her favorite jewelry and brought her bejeweled Michelle Obama purse to mark the occasion. “I miss church. I miss singing in the choir,” Carter said. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon for UCHealth.

Elders at Colorado’s oldest Black church dressed in their Sunday finest and greeted one another warmly as they received COVID-19 vaccines, celebrating what they hope will be a healing turnaround.

African Americans have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic, but so far, have received only about 5% of vaccines in the U.S.

UCHealth workers and doctors from the University of Colorado School of Medicine teamed up with the Rev. Dr. Timothy E. Tyler, pastor of Shorter Community AME Church, and several of the Denver church’s volunteers to vaccinate more than 525 people on Sunday.

Black church leaders can help lead the way so more people of color get potentially life-saving vaccines

Tyler said hosting a vaccine clinic at Shorter Community AME was ideal.

“The Black church has been the center of our community and people have trust in us. So, this is the perfect place,” he said.

Vaccines at a Black church. The Rev. Dr. Timothy E. Tyler was thrilled to host a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Colorado's oldest Black Church, the Shorter Community AME Church in Denver.
The Rev. Dr. Timothy E. Tyler was thrilled to host a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Colorado’s oldest Black Church, the Shorter Community AME Church in Denver. Dr. Tyler said churches are the perfect place for vaccine clinics since they are such trusted institutions. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon for UCHealth.

How to get your COVID-19 Vaccine 

  • For information on getting COVID-19 vaccines through UCHealth, please click here.
  • If you have a My Health Connection accountyou are added to the vaccine list and will automatically receive updates (by email and in the app) regarding the vaccine once it’s your turn to receive it.
  • Governmental and health leaders with the State of Colorado determine the order in which people can receive vaccines. For more information on priority groups click here.
  • If you do not have a My Health Connection account or are new to UCHealth, create a My Health Connection account to be placed on our list to receive the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available for your phase, according to the state’s plan.
  • You do not need to be a current UCHealth patient to receive a vaccine through UCHealth.
  • You do need an appointment to receive a vaccine.
  • For those who don’t have a computer or smart phone, and want to be added to the vaccine list, please call the UCHealth COVID-19 Vaccine Hotline: 720.462.2255 (Español 844.945.2508). Open Monday through Friday – 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday – 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Tyler said AME churches have a long history of tending to the sick.

“During the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793, Bishop Richard Allen, the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and member of Mother Bethel AME Church risked their own health and lives to care for dying citizens in Philadelphia,” Tyler said.

“It’s been in our DNA to get out in the community and be a part of solutions to pandemics,” Tyler said.

He and his wife, Dr. Nita Mosby Tyler, the first lady of Shorter Community AME, both received their first doses of the vaccine three weeks ago and their second doses on Sunday.

Tyler looks forward to continue offering vaccine clinics in partnership with UCHealth until many more members of the community receive their vaccines.

“It’s important that a Black church leads the way in encouraging people of color and Black people who are most affected by the COVID-19 virus, to receive the vaccine,” Tyler said. “The church has always been a central place of trust and healing in the lives of Black people.

“We’re living out what we’ve been called to do,” he said.

The Rev. Dr. Timothy E. Tyler celebrated as elders received their COVID-19 vaccines at Colorado's oldest Black church in Denver.
The Rev. Dr. Timothy E. Tyler celebrated as elders received their COVID-19 vaccines at Colorado’s oldest Black church in Denver. He was speaking with Dr. Shanta Zimmer, an infectious disease expert at UCHealth and the University of Colorado School of Medicine who volunteered to give vaccines at the church on Sunday. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon for UCHealth.

‘It meant a lot to me. I don’t want to die’

Calvin Burnett wore his Sunday finest to receive his COVID-19 vaccine at a Black church on Sunday.
Calvin Burnett wore a suit and a hat to receive his vaccine at Colorado’s oldest Black church on Sunday. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon for UCHealth.

Calvin Burnett, 81, wanted to look dapper when he got his vaccine. He sported a suit, a dress hat and sapphire-blue leather shoes. He bought the shoes in both blue and red a couple of years ago and was excited for an outing to show them off.

“I like to look nice,” Burnett said.

He grew up poor in Arkansas and remembers other kids teasing him because his only shoes had holes in the soles.

“I told myself, “If I ever get old enough, I’m going to buy some shoes.’” Burnett said.

One of seven kids, Burnett left home at 16 and headed to Florida to pick fruit. He later drove cement trucks and other heavy equipment.

Now that he’s had two doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, Burnett looks forward to someday driving to visit friends again.

Calvin Burnett shares an elbow bump with Dr. Sunita Sharma, a pulmonary critical care specialist, who volunteered to give vaccines at Colorado's oldest Black church on Sunday.
After receiving his vaccine, Calvin Burnett, 81, celebrated by bumping elbows with Dr. Sunita Sharma, a pulmonary critical care specialist at UCHealth and the University of Colorado School of Medicine who volunteered to give vaccines at Colorado’s oldest Black church on Sunday. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon for UCHealth.

Burnett lives close to Shorter Community AME in north Denver and was excited to get his vaccine in his neighborhood.

“It meant a lot of me. I don’t want to die. Nobody wants to die,” Burnett said.

Calvrin Burnett dressed up to receive his vaccine at a Black church.
Calvin Burnett loves colorful shoes and wore a favorite blue pair to get his vaccine at Colorado’s oldest Black church on Sunday. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon for UCHealth.

Losses among many Black families have been devastating over the past year since the coronavirus arrived in the U.S.

Vickie Wilhite’s dad died in September. He got sick and was hospitalized in North Carolina. He was released but died days later of a heart attack. He also had signs of pneumonia and COVID-19 might have contributed to his death. Other older relatives also have died over the last year and an uncle is fighting for his life now in a Virginia hospital, Vickie said.

“It’s felt like once a month,” she said of the pandemic’s toll on her family.

‘This is my own church’

Vickie and her husband, Michael Wilhite, brought his mom, Joan Hooker, to the clinic for her first vaccine dose. She turns 90 in July.

“This is my own church. We’ve always been AME,” Hooker said proudly.

Vickie and Michael rolled Hooker into the church Fellowship Hall in a wheelchair. She enjoyed the outing and loved being back at a place she has missed deeply since the pandemic forced all services to go online last spring.

Hooker wasn’t hesitant in the least to get her vaccine.

“I’m glad I got it. I’ve been through a lot,” Hooker said.

Joan Hooker, 89, received her vaccine on Sunday at her church, Shorter Community AME in Denver.
Joan Hooker, who turns 90 this summer, loved receiving her vaccine at her church, Shorter Community AME in Denver. Hooker and many other parishioners have deeply missed attending services at their church, which had to go online last spring due to the pandemic. Dr. Shanta Zimmer, an infectious disease specialist, gave Hooker her vaccine. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon for UCHealth.

She has survived cancer as well as some heart issues that have required two pacemakers.

Hooker typically receives medical care at the UCHealth Seniors Clinic on the Anschutz Medical Campus. But, she loved being vaccinated in her church.

Michael was thrilled, too, to see his mom get her first dose and appreciated the medical team coming to the community.

“I’m happy to see the outreach. I pray that we’ll get as many people vaccinated as fast as possible. I’m hoping this has an impact. Our community has been so affected,” he said.

Dr. Nita Mosby Tyler, first lady of the Shortern Community AME Church, left, greeted people as they entered the church's Fellowship Hall to receive vaccines on Sunday.
Dr. Nita Mosby Tyler, left, is the first lady of the Shorter Community AME Church, Colorado’s oldest Black church in Colorado. She greeted people as they entered the church’s Fellowship Hall to receive vaccines on Sunday. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon for UCHealth.

Vickie acknowledged that some in the Black community have been hesitant to get their vaccines. But, she and Michael can’t wait to get theirs. And, Vickie, who is a community organizer for Together Colorado and part of Shorter’s social justice ministry, is urging all people of color to get vaccines.

“We’ve got to protect our community,” Vickie said.

Enduring racist slights throughout life, but grateful nonetheless

Vaccines at Black churchs - Dr. Timothy E. Tyler got his vaccine to set an example for parishioners.
The Rev. Dr. Timothy E. Tyler got his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine three weeks ago and shared the experience with his parishioners at Shorter Community AME Church in Denver. Photo courtesy of Dr. Tyler.

Hooker lives nearby and has spent her life strengthening her church and her neighborhood. She helped raise funds to build a church school and advocated for the cleanup of a Superfund site nearby.

Hooker was born in Kansas where she was just one of a handful of children allowed to attend a predominantly white school. She had good teachers but wasn’t allowed to participate in activities outside of classes.

“I wanted to be Snow White in the school play,” Hooker said.

Dr. Nita Mosby Tyler, first lady of Shorter Community AME Church in Denver, gets her COVID-19 vaccine at church.
Dr. Nita Mosby Tyler, first lady of Shorter Community AME Church in Denver, like her husband, also got her first does of the COVID-19 vaccine at their church. Photo courtesy of Dr. Tyler.

Sadly, she didn’t get the part and had to endure racism later in life. Hooker is a talented seamstress and was hired to run the alterations department at the old Daniels & Fisher Department Store in downtown Denver only to have the offer rescinded when workers refused to work for a Black woman. Hooker later spent years working as a fitter at Parish’s Dress Shop.

She has three children and 17 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She no longer babysits for them but looks forward to more gatherings once the pandemic eases.

“I’ve been very fortunate,” Hooker said.

About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Colorado native. She attended Colorado College, thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation, and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summer breaks from college. She is also a storyteller. She loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as a journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and was a finalist with a team of reporters for the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of a deadly wildfire in Glenwood Springs in 1994. Katie was the first reporter in the U.S. to track down and interview survivors of the tragic blaze, which left 14 firefighters dead.

She covered an array of beats over the years, including the environment, politics, education and criminal justice. She also loved covering stories in Congress and at the U.S. Supreme Court during a stint as the Rocky’s reporter in Washington, D.C.

Katie then worked as a reporter for an online health news site before joining the UCHealth team in 2017.

Katie and her husband Cyrus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, have three children. The family loves traveling together anywhere from Glacier National Park to Cuba.

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