By Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D.,
NNPA Newswire Culture and Entertainment Editor
Jenifer Lewis is everything you would imagine and more. Known and loved as “The Mother of Black Hollywood,” and named a “National Treasure,” by TV Guide, Lewis has been bringing her fabulous talents to the stage, small and big screen for decades. Whether putting the names of rogue students “on her list” as Dean Davenport on the iconic television show, “A Different World,” telling it like it is as Aunt Helen on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” or serving love and shade as Ruby, the matriarch of the Johnson clan on the ABC hit show Black-ish, Lewis brings passion, skill and talent to her performances that have made her a household name and a beloved member of Hollywood.
In addition to her screen presence, Lewis is also lauded for using social media to entertain, educate and inform. On Lewis’ social media platforms, you are as likely to find the Screen Actors Guild nominee belting out show tunes and improvising “in these streets” hits with R&B royalty like Brandy as you are to see Lewis getting her social media followers in formation for social justice issues like voting, protesting police brutality, mental health treatment and celebrating Black history and culture like Juneteenth.
Lewis chuckles as I congratulate her on her 65th birthday and eye-high kicks to let Instagram followers know that age is just a number. Showing no signs of slowing down, Lewis, who is known as much for her activism as her acting, is taking on a new challenge—stopping the spread of misinformation about Covid-19 on social media through a partnership with The Center for Black Health & Equity (The Center). The Center has launched TheTruthCheck.org, an online training resource to provide African Americans with social media literacy and fact-checking skills to avoid the influence of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation.
“I lived through the AIDS pandemic,” says the thespian. “I saw how misinformation made a bad situation worse. We survived it and we will survive this,” Lewis testifies.
The St. Louis native is the perfect person to serve as spokesperson for this campaign because she clearly understands the importance of social media and the consequences of misinformation in a pandemic. “I’m an Alpha female and I’m a leader and you have to know what you’re leading and that is why I partnered with the Center for Black Health & Equity on TheTruthCheck.org,’ she adds.
Misinformation and disinformation, the intentional spread of misinformation in order to deceive targeted populations has resulted in the deaths of nearly 900,000 Americans. Most of those who have died from Covid-19 have been Indigenous, African American and Latinx for a variety of reasons. Black, Indigenous and Latinx populations are more likely to be employed as essential workers, increasing their exposure to the virus.
They are more likely to work low-wage jobs which lack insurance and paid time off. Black, Native, and Latinx Americans are more likely to be uninsured than other populations, making them less likely to receive preventative care. Black Americans are more likely to have preexisting conditions that increase the risk of complications from the virus. Black, Native, and Latinx Americans are more likely to live in dense, multi-generational housing, making social distancing more difficult, and typically have less access to medical facilities and resources.
This is why Lewis believes we all need to come together to help end the spread of Covid-19 because “if one of us has Covid, we all have Covid,” she says. The spread of misinformation through social media has to end because the consequences are dire for our community.
“As Omicron and other variants continue the spread of COVID-19, we are finding that the main sources African Americans rely on for information about the vaccines are also the sources not trusted, with social media being the main culprit,” said Delmonte Jefferson, executive director for The Center.
“Yet, people repeat what they hear from social media without checking for accuracy first. This practice of receiving and sharing misinformation amplifies health disparities and harms the Black community. Truth Check aims to correct this contagious spread of inaccurate and false narratives.”
“TheTruthCheck.org is one tool to help end the spread of misinformation” says Lewis. “You go there and learn what’s fake and what’s factual because social media is in some cases deliberately feeding us false information,” adds the Hollywood Walk of Fame awardee.
Lewis believes organizations like TheTruthCheck.org are needed in order to keep our families safe in a world that is grappling with change.
Understanding the consequences of misinformation for our community, the “Black-ish” star joined the TheTruthCheck campaign to encourage the African American community to check the facts when it comes to health decisions.
“I believe it is critical to collectively lend our voices to share the truth about COVID-19 and vaccines to empower our people to make sound, informed decisions about what is best to save lives,” said Lewis. “We should all be social media savvy and give it the side eye before we believe it and share it.”
Misinformation isn’t the only reason Lewis joined TheTruthCheck.org campaign. “I joined because I care. I want people to have joy in their lives,” she states matter-of-factly.
“It is time for us to come to the table and to have these conversations about the new reality. It will never be what it was. The world has changed, and we have to change with it. In order to change with it, you have to be educated about it.”
Truth Check has been funded by the CDC Foundation to support The Center and effective community outreach initiatives centered on communities of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) to share accurate, culturally appropriate information about the COVID-19 and influenza vaccines and to link adults to vaccine services.
To learn more about the campaign and how to spot misinformation on social media, visit TheTruthCheck.org.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., is founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire, and award-winning news blog covering the African Diaspora.. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.