The Multicultural Health Institute Journal, volume 1, number 1, January/February 2021











Continuing into 2021, the Multicultural Action Team (MAT) in partnership with the Multicultural Health Institute ( has engaged the community in a tremendous educational effort towards responding to health disparities and the concurrent COVID-19 pandemic in Manatee and Sarasota Counties. From January 1st to the end of February, the MAT has distributed over 12,000 masks, fed over 1,850 families, administered over 20 flu shots, donated and set up 3 health monitor streaming devices, and co-hosted 4 pop-up COVID-19 Vaccination sites; vaccinating over 2,000 predominantly frail BIPOC elders and frontline healthcare workers. We are grateful for the bi-county partnerships and incredible team effort of the MAT, which has done magnificent work. However, there is still much yet to be done. We look forward to resuming nutritional health education and promotion in addition to our COVID-19 prevention efforts this spring.

As part of our commitment to assisting vulnerable communities in the bi-county area during this crucial and strenuous time, we’ve hosted, co-hosted, and assisted numerous events; our main ones include: 

  • The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Service Week

  • Food Distribution events at the Mount Carmel Resource Center

  • The Barber Shop Outreach event at Phatheadz Barbershop

  • The Oneco & Newtown Farmers Markets food and aid distributions

  • The Mayor's Feed the Hungry food drive & distribution

  • The MAT event at the Goodwill Health Fair event.



MHI hosts regular community wellness fairs each month at the Oneco and Newtown farmers market, each time using the opportunity to do preventive screening and linking people to resources. Throughout the events, MHI distributes food to families and provides free health checkups, including blood pressure and glucose checks, and referral to further care as needed. We add a fun dimension by incorporating Zumba dance classes into the schedule, raising morale of volunteers and community members alike. This event is strengthened by collaboration with partner organizations like UnidosNowMCR Health ServicesTidewell Hospice, and Camp Transformation Center.

MHI co-hosted distribution events at the Mount Carmel Resource Center on January 15th and February 20th. There was a great turn-out, with over 200 encounters including inspired repeat visitors with improved blood pressure readings, weight loss and other progress after being previously linked to care at prior events. The event was also significant as we unveiled the brand new information streaming device, which displays informational health resources including updates on the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccination. We look forward to our continued monthly work with Mount Carmel.

MHI will be resuming efforts to provide education on health disparities and promoting STEAMH opportunities with regular events throughout the year. Some include continuing the weekly community 'Mask and Munchies' on Mondays as MHI teams distribute health and resource pamphlets, food and personal protective equipment (PPE) to individuals and businesses in North Sarasota. These efforts include outreach to people without homes. MHI will also continue to host and support our regular healing circle events, hosted on the first and third Wednesday of every month.

To learn more about about our upcoming outreach events, go to the MHI website's calendar page. This page is updated regularly and includes all of our events, we hope to see you at one of our events soon!

To learn more about about our upcoming outreach events, go to the MHI website's calendar page. This page is updated regularly and includes all of our events, we hope to see you at one of our events soon!

Special Events

At the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in Sarasota, the community gave recognition to outstanding community leaders such as April Glasco (Second Chance Last Opportunity), Mary Mack (Newtown Farmer’s Market), Eureka Webb (All Faiths Food Bank and Harvest House), and Michael Kinsey (photographer/filmmaker). Also in attendance were Sarasota Mayor Hagen Brody, former Mayors Jen Ahearn-Koch and Willie Shaw along with Vice-Mayor Erik Arroyo and a number of other officials as well as the leaders and heads of many other community organizations. 


Observer staff writer Harry Sayer posted Dr. Merritt 's sentiments about the awardees for whom she expressed appreciation--with a gift and flowers--for the years of work they’ve done in the community: “[The gifts] were a pittance compared to what they’re worth. Each of them are friends and colleagues; we’ve been in the fight together for many years across all the domains of social deterministic health.”


MHI provided free blood pressure screenings, 700 masks, 144 hand sanitizers, and information and education on COVID-19 and tips for healthy eating.


The Herald-Tribune quoted Dr. Merritt: “We have African Americans dying at three times the rate of everyone else . . . This virus attacks those who are already vulnerable, who are living in multigenerational environments. We have a perfect storm. People are very excited to know the vaccine is coming. We’re finding that the attitudes have shifted with our educational efforts.”

Another core event of MLK service week was the Barber Shop Outreach Program at Phatheadz Barbershop in Sarasota, during which the MHI team distributed educational resources and information on COVID-19, free masks and hand sanitizers, performed blood pressure checks all the while encouraging viewing of a national Minority Health Webinar from UCLA and Association of Black Cardiologists answering questions and dispelling concerns about the vaccine. We were able to distribute 72 masks, 24 bottles of hand sanitizer, perform 6 BP checks, and provide educational resources and information on COVID-19 for a total of 72 attendees.

On Saturday, the 23rd of January 2021, as the finale for our Martin Luther King week of service, we held our Multicultural Action Team (MAT) Community Coalition Wellness Fair at the Goodwill Manasota. We are grateful for our fellow coalition partners for helping us serve the community: UnidosNow, Tidewell Hospice, Goodwill Manasota Veterans Service, MCR Health Services, Suncoast Blood Centers, Manatee County Health Dept., Meals on Wheels Plus of Manasota, and The Food Bank of Manatee. We are grateful to the community for coming out. Services the fair provided include free food distribution to 400 families, 30 blood pressure checks, 24 glucose checks and Diabetes education, 10 flu shots, COVID-19 testing and vaccine information, referrals, and follow-up appointments, free hand sanitizer and face masks for both adults and children, 35 free MCR Health dental and 29 free eye exams, SunCoast Blood Centers mobile unit receiving 14 blood donations, and career advice as well as on-the-spot interviews with Goodwill. MHI distributed over 900 masks and 125 bottles of hand sanitizer, and we gave out two blood pressure monitors, two glucometers, and linked six people to care including splinting a wrist fracture and coordinating urgent care services.

The total value of the goods and services provided by the MAT at the Goodwill event alone was estimated at over $35,000. Our work is a poignant opportunity to reaffirm and strengthen long standing relationships working together in unity for the benefit of the community.


Vaccine Convening & Vaccination Pop-Ups

More than 118 million people globally and 29 million in the U.S. have had COVID-19. Statewide and locally we have seen disproportionate cases of COVID-19 amongst BIPOC communities yet an inverse relationship with regard to vaccinating those same most vulnerable populations. Responding to the disconcerting disparity in vaccine distribution with less than one percent of vaccine recipients being African Americans, MHI called together bi-county community leaders across several sectors, including education, health, business, faith, and philanthropy. These Vaccine Convening sessions in February were an immense success with high turnout on short notice in February to discuss how the community can help build a more equitable distributive and administrative system for COVID-19 vaccination.


Click here to read more about MHI's vaccine convening and the racial disparities of COVID-19 vaccine distribution in the Sarasota-Manatee Area

With the combined visioning and response of these thought leaders, we were pleased to have the opportunity to co-host several “Pop-Up” vaccine clinics beginning with the Manatee Department of Health at the Oneco United Methodist Church on February 20th. With outstanding on-the-ground recruitment efforts by our Safekeepers, we shepherded and helped facilitate the administration of over 450 COVID-19 vaccinations to elderly and vulnerable community members. With committed advance recruitment and education of the community by our Safekeepers, we had few no-shows and were able to easily fill those slots from the ongoing waiting list. We also distributed 1300 masks and 400 hand sanitizers, along with COVID-19 and general health information. The event highlighted the need for more equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all communities. For many, this pop-up vaccination center was the only way that COVID-19 vaccines could be accessible to them.

MHI also provided support for two pop-up vaccine clinics at the Light of the World International Church, in collaboration with SDOH, UnidosNow, Sarasota Women of ActionGulf Coast Medical Society and collaborating members from various Faith Alliances. Community members expressed appreciation for this effort noting that they felt valued and empowered to fight back against COVID-19, when previously many had fallen into despair. Over 700 were vaccinated across these two events.

MHI also supported recruitment for the pop-up vaccination event at the 13th Avenue Dream Center. During this event over 400 individuals were vaccinated. This event was hosted and implemented by MCR Health Services, and MHI is thankful to them for allowing us to support the cause of fighting COVID-19 and inequity in the healthcare system.

The Multicultural Health Institute has developed a unique system that has significantly improved show rates, reduced cancellations predicated on the hard work of our Safekeepers. They engage in individualized outreach for potential vaccine recipients in our community, reaching out to each individual either in person, via email, or phone depending on the needs of the individual. This unique, human-orientated approach has proven to be effective in bridging technological barriers, particularly with the elderly who have had significant trouble navigating the online registration process.


Data Updates

With a full year of COVID-19 behind us, the MHI Data Team sought to put together a concise document detailing its effects on Florida and our community. This presentation, our "Pandemic Year in Review", graphically and statistically shows the escalation of COVID-19 cases. Care was taken to include important dates, such as reopening attempts by the state government, to show the effect of state policy on COVID-19 case numbers. Observing the lackluster performance of the state in vaccinating BIPOC communities, the document also reviews the local condition of the ongoing vaccination campaign in both Sarasota and Manatee counties.



To access MHI's COVID-19 year in review: Click Here


With a full year of COVID behind us, the data team sought to put together a concise document detailing its effects on the Florida and our community. This presentation, our "Pandemic Year in Review" graphically and statistically shows the scale of COVID. Care was taken to include important dates, such as reopening attempts by the state government, to show the effect of state policy on COVID case numbers. The document also reviews the state of the ongoing vaccination campaign in both Sarasota and Manatee counties, noting the lackluster performance of the state in vaccinating BIPOC communities.


To learn more about M.H.I.'s year in review: Click Here

Media Engagement

Along with directly supporting the vaccination campaigns, Dr. Merritt has led a media blitz to pressure local government to make vaccine equity a top priority, with interviews in the Sarasota Herald-TribuneWSLR and WUSF radio stations, lecturing virtually with the Bethlehem Bible Church Women’s wellness retreat and New College of Florida creativity and health series. She and other members of the Gulf Coast Medical Society, Dr. Washington Hill, Dr. Yusif Addae and Dr. Janet Taylor participated in the NAACP and Boule community information webinars. Dr. Merritt worked with Ringling Museum’s artist in residence, John Sims’ provocative project, “2020 Reimagined” including a letter dedicated to fallen MHI comrade, Hector Vega, who lost his battle with COVID-19 on December 30, 2020.


Ongoing Topics

Social Media

The MHI Social Media Team has grown both in size and in reach, providing up-to-date content for local, national, and international audiences. Please note that spikes and subsequent dips were driven by dramatic world events which significantly affected social media traffic, such as the contentious 2020 United States elections and the storming of the U.S. Capitol building. Since late 2020, the Multicultural Health Institute's online presence has expanded significantly, going from an average monthly impressions of 1,000 between June and September to an average of 8,000 impressions a month between October 2020 and February 2021. An "impression" is a count of how many views a tweet receives, and more is better.

The Social Media Team has not only increased the reach of the Multicultural Health Institute’s message, but has also helped drive volunteer recruitment and event attendance as seen by the huge increase in online engagement in the final quarter of 2020 and first quarter of 2021. An “engagement” is a content interaction with a tweet, including following a link, liking the post, or sharing it. This growth in engagement has allowed MHI to drive more traffic to our site, increased our online presence, driven recruitment, and helped us disseminate life-saving information to our expanding follower base.









Follower counts on all of our social media pages are growing consistently and strongly. Especially the MHI Facebook page, which has seen a tremendous bout of growth over the past month of February. With the Media Team working full-time we expect to see continued gains in follower counts, with projected figures for end-of-year follower counts based on last month's growth rate shown on the right.
















Be sure to check out our social media pages and our website!


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Resilient American Communities Dashboard


Click here to visit the Dashboard!

The Multicultural Health Institute has collaborated with our partners to create and maintain the Sarasota and Manatee Counties Resilience System Dashboard. This website has up-to-date, accurate COVID-19 information and resources available such as testing sites, food resources, meds, how to get masks, and more. Information and resources are available in English, Spanish, and Kreyol.

If you ever have any questions or need any advice, don't hesitate to touch base with us.



Dr. Lisa Merritt


1781 Dr. Martin Luther King Way, Sarasota, Florida 34234

Click here to make a tax deductible donation.

Portrait of Dr. Lisa Merritt, M.H.I. founder and director, by Mike Solomon

MHI Mission Statement:


The Multicultural Health Institute ( seeks to level the healthcare playing field by promoting, educating, and ensuring equal healthcare access and treatment for individuals and communities who are traditionally uninsured and receive a poor quality of care. We support programs that educate, identify, and test for diseases such as Cancer, Diabetes, Obesity, Stroke, Cardiovascular Disease, Infant Mortality, HIV/AIDS, and other health issues affecting under-represented communities across the United States which also help reduce the costs of healthcare. 



We are grateful for the generosity of several organizations supporting our work and strong collaborative partners to enhance implementation and scope of our efforts.


MHI is pleased to accept Grant support from:

1781 Dr. Martin Luther King Way, Sarasota, Florida 34234

Phone: 941-706-3362   Fax: 941-225-8198

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