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La. Army National Guard Spc. Ashlynn Cleveland loads a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe, during a mass vaccination event held at LSU's Tiger Stadium, in a partnership with the La. Dept. of Health, the La. National Guard and LSU, Sunday, March 14, 2021. It was expected that 800 doses would be administered by appointment, said La. National Guard Lt. Col. Dorrie Staal, Deputy Commander of Task Force Vaccine.

Southern University's leaders launched a statewide campaign Friday to encourage Black and other racial minority groups to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, saying the school's broad network can help make a dent in boosting vaccination rates among people of color.

The project will build on a drive-through vaccination event set for Saturday at the F.G. Clark Activity Center on the university's Baton Rouge campus. The site on Saturday will give shots to people who walk up.

In a broadcast on Southern's YouTube channel, the university system announced a campaign titled "Don't Wait. Vaccinate." A wide spectrum of speakers at a campus news conference each ended their remarks repeating the motto, and noted Southern alumni statewide would be asked to help.

"We intend to leverage every segment of our community," Domoine Rutledge, the chairman of Southern University Board of Supervisors, said at the news conference. "It’s our collective hope that our efforts might help save someone’s life.”

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Rutledge said education alone wasn't enough to conquer the virus, which has hit minority communities harder than the general population. The school said Black people are not being vaccinated at a high enough rate to overcome the pandemic.

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Saturday's event, held in conjunction with Ochsner Health-Baton Rouge, will be followed by a mass vaccination event April 10 at nine sites, including Southern system campuses.

Another education and vaccination event is set for April 17 amid Bayou Classic festivities. The annual game with Grambling, typically played in the fall at the Superdome in New Orleans, is scheduled to be played next month at Independence Stadium in Shreveport.

Southern also plans a webinar for May 4 titled "What's the Difference? Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Moderna Vaccines.”

Ray L. Belton, the president-chancellor of the Southern system, said the school had an obligation to spread the news about the vaccines available because of the virus' high death toll. Louisiana this month marked the deaths of 10,000 from COVID-19, and "we are saddled with only memories."

Sandra Brown, the dean of the university's college of nursing and allied health, said there was a three-prong approach that historically black colleges and universities were called to follow: educate communities, bring vaccines to them and "remove barriers so we can get vaccines into the arms of the people who need it most."

"We will be intentional in our campaign with the stamina of a jaguar," she said.


Email Kelly P. Kissel at kkissel@theadvocate.com