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 “Look, regardless of whether you believe in the virus or not, it’s creating effects on your organization. What are those effects and how can we go about mitigating them?”

–Phil Black, Salina musician and concerned community member

When an email announcing the Kansas Beats the Virus (KBTV) initiative hit a Salina city commissioner’s inbox, he quickly identified someone in the community who could help mobilize the community’s participation.

Since moving to Salina in 2002, Phil Black has been building connections with residents as an elected member of the local school board, candidate for state legislature, a member of various community groups and local government committees, and a musician playing local gigs.

For three weeks in December 2020, Black worked those connections, becoming one of the initiative’s most prolific meeting organizers overall and the most prolific in Saline County. He organized 17 of the 20 meetings held in Saline County. He led several projects himself and enlisted others to take on projects as well.

“As far as I was concerned, that was my job for that time,” said Black. “I found small groups who could be more flexible and could make things happen a lot quicker and easier than going through boards of directors. The way I would pitch it to people was to say, ‘Look, regardless of whether you believe in the virus or not, it’s creating effects on your organization. What are those effects and how can we go about mitigating them?’ That really helped people think seriously about how it was affecting them.”

The resulting projects affected diverse segments of Saline County’s population: hospitalized COVID-19 patients, domestic violence survivors, transient families, lower-income and underserved residents, isolated seniors and even those who wanted to support local musicians.

“After Phil called, I got busy,” said Sandy Beverly, who secured grants on behalf of the local NAACP chapter and North Salina Community Development. Neighborhood residents and business owners comprise the latter group. Beverly is an officer with both organizations, which had already done some pandemic-related projects in the summer.

With KBTV grants, Beverly’s groups provided personal care packages and information on testing and vaccination sites to transient families living in old hotels and residents of two 76-unit apartment buildings in the economically depressed neighborhood of North Salina. The money also funded free drive-through testing for those residents.

Megan Gladbach, who works at the Land Institute, was among the many local musicians who endured months of not having gigs. Again, it was Black who encouraged her to think of a creative and innovative way to share talents and help make a difference in curbing the steadily growing confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Phil Black meeting zoom screen shot

Gladbach staged a virtual mini music festival in mid-February. Besides showcasing Gladbach’s band, The Radicles, the festival included two other popular area bands, Don Wagner and Friends and the husband/wife duo Treehouse.

To encourage pandemic awareness among festival viewers, The Radicles offered the first 100 audience members who shared their personal plans to beat the virus a free copy of the band’s first CD, “Seed.” While isolating in 2020, the band members had written and recorded songs about hope, growth and resilience, themes that resonated during a pandemic.

The last track on the CD was used as the soundtrack for a 90-second COVID-19 safety plan video produced by Chisholm Life Skills Center, a Wichita public school that helps developmentally challenged young adults transition from school to adulthood.

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

This case study comes from our evaluation report on Kansas Beats the Virus produced by Third Floor Research, an applied research center operated in partnership with Kansas State University’s Staley School of Leadership Studies.