Special Projects Fund

Project Title

Advancing Health Equity for Black New Yorkers

Grant Amount


Priority Area

Special Projects Fund

Date Awarded

October 1, 2021







The COVID-19 pandemic has struck New York City hard, especially in communities of color.

It has sickened, hospitalized, and killed Black New Yorkers at more than double the rate of white New Yorkers. As of August 2021, only 28% of Black New York residents ages 18 to 44 were fully vaccinated—a significantly lower rate than for residents in other demographics in that age bracket. Low vaccination rates, coinciding with disproportionately high rates of chronic conditions, put this population at higher risk for poor health outcomes from COVID-19. Vaccination efforts have faced obstacles in some communities of color, as vaccine skepticism and hesitancy persist and misinformation remains pervasive. To build vaccine literacy, confidence, and trust, messengers who have roots in the community are needed. In 2021, NYHealth awarded United Way of New York City a grant to implement a program to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates, improve health outcomes, and address health disparities in Black communities in New York City.

Under this grant, United Way implemented Choose Healthy Life, a scalable approach to address public health disparities that is centered around the Black church—the oldest and most trusted institution in the Black community. United Way led a multisector coalition to give churches in targeted neighborhoods the resources and support they need to train and activate a community workforce of health navigators and messengers. It collaborated with Black-led advocacy groups, community-based organizations, and other stakeholders to help participating churches use Choose Healthy Life to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates and to improve chronic disease management among parishioners. Churches received grants to support staff, community engagement, outreach, education, and events. Health navigators were trained and worked directly with the clergy and church health ministries to lead one-to-one engagement of fellow parishioners and community outreach and education efforts, including vaccination and health promotion events. Navigator supervisors provided specialized support for clinical activities, contact-tracing protocols, and data tracking. As the program evolved, navigators delivered other health services for priorities such as hypertension and obesity. United Way worked with navigators and each church to create a community action plan, including referral networks of health and social service providers and information on vaccination and testing sites. Finally, United Way developed a communications strategy and toolkit to support the expansion of the Choose Healthy Life program to additional churches, as well as co-developed a social media strategy to combat vaccine misinformation.