Restorative Circles: SC CTSI-Supported Initiative Helps Communities of Color Suffering from COVID-19 Pandemic

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Efforts to educate and promote the COVID-19 vaccine continue and rates have gone up, but there are still communities struggling to get vaccinated. Whether low vaccination rates are due to misinformation or lack of accessibility, it has become apparent that not all communities in the U.S. are suffering in the same ways from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several groups in California have made it their mission to increase vaccine rates among diverse populations. One organization in particular, Share, Trust, Organize, Partner: The COVID-19 California Alliance (STOP COVID-19 CA for short), is at the forefront of this mission.

STOP COVID-19 CA is a group of 11 academic research institutions, including the SC Clinical and Translational Science Institute (SC CTSI), aimed at “addressing gaps in COVID-19 (mis)information, vaccine trial participation, and vaccine accessibility.” STOP COVID-19 CA works closely with the VaccinateLA initiative, a health campaign established by SC CTSI in partnership with USC, CHLA, LAC+USC, and multiple community partners.

After conducting focus groups aimed at uncovering barriers for vaccine adoption, STOP COVID-19 CA found that many communities are struggling with mental health challenges as a result of and compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. With this information in hand, the academic research institutions in this alliance were encouraged to help out their surrounding communities in managing and healing from the mental traumas exacerbated by the pandemic through facilitating “restorative circles.” Restorative circles are 60-180 minute safe spaces where community members can unite to converse and form unions based upon shared life experiences or trauma.

“We wanted to provide communities with something that did not also draw resources or information from them,” said AJ Adkins from UCLA’s STOP COVID-19 CA team. “I proposed restorative circles, and as a team, we crafted the circles into an exploratory project that myself and Dr. Evelyn Vazquez of UC Riverside led.”

While community leaders co-hosting these restorative circles are given autonomy over the size of circles and resources shared with attendees, STOP COVID-19 CA provides funding for food and travel to the circles as well as planning resources and stipends for the facilitators and mental health professionals involved.

“SC CTSI was elated to begin work on this project and entered into a partnership with a local pastor from Watts, Senior Pastor Alvin Stafford from Bethel Missionary Baptist Church,” said Christian Starks, SC CTSI Community Engagement Program Manager.

This particular restorative circle facilitated by Pastor Stafford was attended by over 20 African American men. The goal of this circle was to provide a safe space for members working to heal from the grief and stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Looking to the future, SC CTSI Community Engagement plans on hosting another restorative circle soon for the LGBTQIA+ community. As the nation slowly but surely works towards healing from the collective traumas brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, SC CTSI will continue to do its part to help marginalized communities in LA County find hope and healing through these impactful restorative circles.

CTSA Program In Action Goals
Goal 2: Engage Patients and Communities in Every Phase of the Translational Process
Goal 3: Promote the Integration of Special and Underserved Populations in Translational Research Across the Human Lifespan