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Group of 'Guardians' deploy across Cleveland to help boost vaccination rates

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Posted at 2:59 PM, Jan 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-17 19:30:16-05

CLEVELAND — Towering above the Hope Memorial Bridge, the Guardians we all know and love keep tabs on transportation.

This spring, for the first time, the Guardians will hit the field at the corner of East 9th Street and Carnegie Avenue.

But there's another set of Guardians in our city you probably don't even know about.

"I can't express the urgency of being a Guardian," said Marilyn Burns.

Burns, a community advocate, is one of the Guardians of Cleveland.

"I'm your neighbor, I'm your friend, so let's talk about this," said Burns.

The group of neighbors is trying to set the record straight about the COVID-19 vaccine.

"A person that people can come to for resource, a person they can trust that I'm not going to bamboozle them or give them any misinformation about anything," said Burns.

Kevin "Chill" Heard got connected with the Guardians through his physician.

"I'm definitely disheartened at the numbers," said Heard.

Cleveland's overall vaccination rate is only 45%.

Trying to move the needle has been a challenge, particularly in communities of color.

"This has been a really real fight for the hearts and minds of my community," said Heard.

Heard often takes his message, backed with data, to barbershops.

"It's a place where real conversation happens," said Heard.

Heard said it is one of the most difficult locations.

"I've had wins and I've had losses here," said Heard.

Among Heard's vaccine victories – Jay Kool.

"I wasn't going to get it, wasn't going to happen, forget about it," said Kool.

After several conversations described as "heart-to-heart, man-to-man,” Kool finally came around.

Heard said it wasn’t easy.

"I did call MC Chill like is this what all the fuss is about? I mean seriously, ya'll, we can't be at this crux like this little shot," said Kool.

The Guardians of Cleveland plan to stay the course until most of their community comes around like Jay Kool.

"I felt really good that not only was my friend safe, but he could also go on and give information from his perspective to other people," said Heard.

That is exactly what Kool plans to do moving forward now that he’s fully vaccinated.

"I’ll definitely advocate for the shot and it is an uphill struggle, but I do fight the fight now," said Kool.

RELATED: Cleveland group launches grassroots campaign to increase vaccinations in underserved communities